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Is your child over-perfectionistic with their homework?

The presentations of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be very different and some ways that children are actually acting on their OCD may be very subtle, such as doing their homework “perfectly”. These are some things to look out for if you find your child is doing his homework perfectly to better identify if OCD may be an issue for your child.

Before we begin, let’s cover the basics of OCD. An obsession is an unwanted, intrusive thought, image, or urge that triggers intense discomfort or distress. A compulsion is a behavior that someone engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsession or decrease his or her distress. For example, someone might have an intrusive thought of their hands covered in germs that makes them feel very uncomfortable or fear for their health, To reduce this distress, they go and wash their hands. However, OCD can take on many forms.

Academic perfectionism in OCD is the outcome of the fear of making mistakes and making a mistake to children feels like their house is on fire!. The observable behaviors in children may look like they are re-working their homework over and over again; retracing letters or written words in a perfect way, spending a considerable amount of time completing homework, and there maybe even holes in the paper from erasing so much.

If you ask them why they are doing these things, they may also not be able to describe specifically what it is, but they will tell you that they keep doing it until it “just feels right”.

Often times parents inadvertently accommodate the OCD behaviors as well. For example, a parent might reassure their child that their homework looks perfect and beautiful and ready to turn in. Another example may be proofreading every single homework item before turning it in because your child is asking you to. A third example of an accommodation would be letting them stay up late at night to keep working on their homework until it’s ‘perfect’.

One component of OCD-related perfectionism is around your child’s sensitivity to mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but for a child with perfectionism OCD, mistakes may seem terribly painful and they might fear extreme consequences for a seemingly small mistake.

At times it can be difficult to distinguish regular academic behavior from OCD behavior. Everyone has some rituals or habits they engage in. When dealing with academic perfectionism as a form of OCD, it depends on the degree in which the compulsions are affecting your child’s life. A behavior may be considered OCD if it affects them in these ways for at least 1 month: spending more than 2 hours a day on compulsive behaviors, interference with school or social performance, distress associated with not carrying out the behaviors, yielding to the compulsions, and feeling like they have no control over acting on the compulsive thoughts.

If you see any of these behaviors in your child – such as re-writing, overly sensitive to mistakes, or excessive fear of your criticism if they aren’t perfect, then OCD may be a cause of this. Nothing can replace a thorough assessment by an expert, and it’s important to address these problems earlier so the OCD does not become more jsevere and debilitating for your child.

Just as a reference, the most effective treatment for dealing with all types of OCD is exposure response prevention (ERP). If you kid or teen is dealing with academic perfectionism related to OCD, then this is the best treatment choice for him or her.

 

References:

Lee, J. C., Prado, H. S., Diniz, J. B., Borcato, S., da Silva, C. B., Hounie, A. G., … & do Rosário, M. C. (2009). Perfectionism and sensory phenomena: phenotypic components of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Comprehensive Psychiatry50(5), 431-436.

Ye, H. J., Rice, K. G., & Storch, E. A. (2008). Perfectionism and peer relations among children with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Child Psychiatry & Human Development39(4), 415-426.

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