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Anxiety and Stress Disorders (Children)

Symptoms of OCD in Children



My son has shown signs of anxiety from early on. We adopted him from another country and were united when he was 4 months old. He is very intelligent and enjoys all kinds of sports. The first time I tried to separate from him in a formal child care situation, I was in the same place but a different room for 2 hrs. once a week, when he was 2 years old, he cried and vomitted for months on the way to the location each week. More recently, I took him to his Swim Team Practice, New Coach and 1st session for the summer. As soon as he got there he was unsure of the expectations and seems to be anxious about making any mistakes. He starts tearing up as he asks the coach repeatedly what he is supposed to do. He follows the other team members, the coach calls back several swimmers including my son to correct the stroke. He starts crying again. The coach sends him to me and my son says, he does not want to do swim team. I decide that because he is so anxious about it and I feel so bad that he worries so much, that I just reassure him that that is fine and we will just do swim lessons. In school too, he is so afraid to make a mistake that he asks the teacher repeatedly for reassurance. What can I do to help him through this fear of making a mistake? Thank you


Your child as you describe him is of a shy and sensitive nature and given the right supportive environment lives up to the expectations of adults in his world. It sounds like your child may have obsessive-compulsive symptoms (OCD is also an anxiety disorder) with reassurance seeking part of the obessiveness. Adults in this situation should try to reassure without undue “attention” and try to ignore the repetitive nature of these requests. It may help to get him some individualized instruction for stroke development from his coach in a less pressurized setting (after practice) so that expectations for both are clear and anxiety can be lessened. On the other hand, new and novel situations will always provoke this response, and it may be best to seek professional help for your son with a trained cognitive behavioral therapist, a specific and effective therapy for OCD.

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Response by:

Floyd R Sallee, MD
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati