by Jesse Spiegel, PsyD
Jesse Spiegel PsyD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) often wears down children and parents.  Prior to beginning treatment, parents often state that they can no longer understand or recognize their child.  They see their child as being rigid, stuck, and exhausting.  They do not know how to respond to the grip OCD has on their child. 

Family #1: Rachel avoids wearing clothes that make her feel itchy or uncomfortable.  As a result, she insists on wearing the same outfit to school and at home. Rachel’s parents feel forced to wash her clothes daily to avoid conflict.

Family #2: Sam obsesses that something bad could happen to his parents.  He now sleeps on his parents’ bedroom floor on some nights, and sends them texts whenever a scary thought comes up.

The Worry Monster is a concept that looks at the child as an individual separate from their OCD.  This is an essential part in externalizing the OCD from your child.   So how can you help your child move forward against their Worry Monster?  

First, make sure to recognize and tell your child of their strengths and skills that they have.  

“Rachel, there are so many amazing things about you!  You are a great older sister and an excellent artist!”  

“Sam, we are so proud of you!  You are a hard-working student and a great athlete!” 

Second, help your child come up with a name for their Worry Monster. This provides an opportunity for your child to use their creative and humorous spirit.   I often encourage children to call their Worry Monster a name of something they do not like or to give a silly name.  

Third, help your child identify the various OCD rules (i.e. compulsions and rituals) that the Worry Monster pushes your child to do. This also provides an opportunity to recognize the specific behaviors you want to see reinforced within your child instead.

“Rachel, it seems like Stinky says you can’t handle itchy clothes.  Let’s see if you can prove him wrong and wear those socks today!”

“Sam, I’m wondering if you could teach Voldemort a lesson by staying in your room the whole night, even if a bad thought comes up!”

Ongoing application of the Worry Monster language offers a glimpse at your child’s improvement.  It provides both you and them with a sense of hope as they move against OCD’s rules.  It also offers a way of recognizing your child’s success in their ongoing battle against OCD.

“Rachel, I am so impressed with you!  Stinky said you could not stand wearing socks that were itchy.  Way to show him you can handle it even if it is uncomfortable!”

“Sam, way to show Voldemort that you could stay in your room until the early morning! You showed him you could do something very tough.”  

OCD can be challenging for everyone involved. The use of the Worry Monster language provides a way of bringing parents and the child together, and making OCD a smaller part of their lives. 

Dr. Jesse Spiegel is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Los Angeles, California.  He works in private practice in which he treats children, adolescents, and adults with OCD and anxiety disorders.  Dr. Spiegel also works at an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), in which he serves clients with severe OCD.  Dr. Spiegel is a graduate of the International OCD Foundation’s Behavior Therapy Training Institute. He is also a Certified Personal Trainer and Spinning Instructor.