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5yo Anxiety - Constantly Washes Hands

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I'm starting to worry about my 5 year old. He will NOT stop telling us (every few minutes) that he might have something on his hands or he will. He frequently holds his hands like a claw to keep from getting"stuff" from his hands on things. Even when he watched a show at my mom's this weekend, his brother told me he kept sneaking in the bathroom and washing his hands.

 

I'm praying with him when he brings it up now. And trying to reassure him. But it's so constant that I sometimes have to say, "You're fine. There's nothing there." And move on with reading or school or whatever.

 

Help! Dh and I are starting to get worried. Do we schedule an appointment with the pediatrician? What is going on?? It breaks my heart to see him like this.

 

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I would schedule immediately. Trust your gut. Don't get dismissed by your front line care provider if you really think something is wrong.

 

Has he been sick lately? Could it be PANDAS triggered?

 

From what miniscule amount I understand, if it's really ocd or something like that, behavioral therapy can be very helpful. I have a distant friend who's son deals with this and I've read her blog for awhile and there is hope.

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I would schedule immediately. Trust your gut. Don't get dismissed by your front line care provider if you really think something is wrong.

 

Has he been sick lately? Could it be PANDAS triggered?

 

From what miniscule amount I understand, if it's really ocd or something like that, behavioral therapy can be very helpful. I have a distant friend who's son deals with this and I've read her blog for awhile and there is hope.

 

I second this. My 7yr old started with something like this over the summer (compulsive hand washing, intense separation anxiety, fear of germs/disease/poisoning, etc). We treated with antibiotics right away (he tested positive for strep without any obvious symptoms) and he seemed to get better. My husband is absolutely against therapy of any kind (long story) so my son is still living with OCD issues, though the high anxiety/fear stuff subsided after the antibiotics. He still cradles/hides his right hand (the one he eats with) when doing some dirty tasks, but it is a lot less noticeable now.

 

Good luck.

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It definitely sounds like OCD. As FriedClams mentioned, if his symptoms were sudden onset, look into PANDAS.

 

This is a great book to read both with your son and for your own information. 

Edited by MercyA
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It definitely sounds like OCD. As FriedClams mentioned, if his symptoms were sudden onset, look into PANDAS.

 

This is a great book to read both with your son and for your own information. 

 

I've had OCD myself since childhood. Feel free to PM me if there's anything I can do to help.

 

Yes, I was just going to recommend this book when I saw that MercyA already had.  It has been a huge help for our family.

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As the others said, that is OCD.  One possible cause is PANDAS, an abnormal immune response to strep and/or other infections (e.g. mycoplasma pneumonia and several others).  For some lucky families, the fix can be quick.

Edited by wapiti
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Beside what everyone else has said, have you sat down and had a discussion with him about what gave him the idea his hands had stuff on them and that he needs to keep washing them. What kind of stuff does he think it is. Ask him what will happen if he doesn't wash them. You may be surprised. Kids get unusual ideas in their heads because of incomplete information or information that has been inordinately stressed by some medium that they view as an authority.

 

My oldest boy washed his hands till they bled before I finally straight out asked him similar questions. It turns out the tap was dripping and Sesame Street had said fish would die if we waste water. He was making sure the water wasn't wasted by using it!

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I'd call ahead and talk to the nurse first so the doctor has a heads up, then take him in. The pediatrician helped us out with raw hands around that age by giving specific instructions on hand washing- when it was and wasn't needed, how long to wash, and to follow up with lotion.

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If it is OCD, his brain functions differently than yours and reasoning with him will not solve the issue as much as you wish it would and would hope that he'll come around. Yes, he can learn some techniques for handling some aspects of the OCD, and the book recommended above is excellent,, but it's important (I'm still learning this!) to fully understand and accept that you will not be able to reason his way out of this. Something's happening in his brain that needs to be relieved, and the relief doesn't come from reasoning it aside. There are some possible cognitive ways to relieve this stress that he's feeling, but reasoning is not usually one of them, and in fact, it can exacerbate the stress he's feeling. You can't reason away a broken bone; you can't reason away OCD.  It's an actual, physical issue, not a cognitive thought-process issue. He needs tools (and may eventually need meds). Prayer might help a bit with handling the stress but probably more for you than for him, honestly (said lovingly from one Christian mom to another).Do get the book linked above if you can.  It helps a lot and is designed/written for a younger set. Hugs to you.

Edited by milovany
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My experience may be strange but we had a kid go through that here and it was just a stage - maybe a month or wanting wash hands all the time and even refusing to play aithbthings that seemed dirty or messy, but then they moved past it. No other OCD indicators.

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My experience may be strange but we had a kid go through that here and it was just a stage - maybe a month or wanting wash hands all the time and even refusing to play aithbthings that seemed dirty or messy, but then they moved past it. No other OCD indicators.

 

I had a kid who did much the same thing around 5/6 - the obsessive behaviour was different though.

 

This is the one and only time I've ever used a reward chart...it was very effective at reducing the behaviour, and that seemed to be enough to to retrain the thinking.

 

Still, it is definitely worth checking out if ongoing.

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If your doctors are like the ones here the first thing they will suggest is sticker charts/explanations etc. Do all those things, check there isn't some actual reason, explain about germs and hygiene etc and do a reward chart. If there isn't definite improvement within what you consider a reasonable time take him to the doctor and insist on a referral to a specialist. Just say "done that" and show proof to every behavioral suggestion.

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Thank you for these responses. I'm going to read these over again tomorrow with my husband, talk with my son some more, and probably try a rewards chart and see if it improves. Although what would that look like in this specific case?

 

I'll also look at that book. I appreciate all your advice. Keep it coming 😉

 

Thankful

 

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Thank you for these responses. I'm going to read these over again tomorrow with my husband, talk with my son some more, and probably try a rewards chart and see if it improves. Although what would that look like in this specific case?

 

I'll also look at that book. I appreciate all your advice. Keep it coming 😉

 

Thankful

 

Sent from my Nexus 5X using Tapatalk

 

Make clear the times he needs to wash hands - after bathroom, before dinner. He gets a sticker every time he wants to wash his hands outside of that time, but doesn't.

 

Every X stickers, a high value 'reward'. I didn't make mine toys or anything - thought that might have been the end of month reward - it was more like for every 5 stickers, he got to choose from a list of fun activities or stuff like choosing dessert or the bedtime story.

 

If your ds gets super distressed though, I'd drop the rewards chart. I actually loathe this behavioural modification, generally, and only stuck with it b/c it worked. It worked within the first few days, minimal distress. I did support ds with feeling yuck when he couldn't do his behaviour.  We didn't do it longer than a month.

 

All to say, try it, but don't be wedded to it. If it's not working or your ds is too distressed, just go on to the next strategy.

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Make clear the times he needs to wash hands - after bathroom, before dinner. He gets a sticker every time he wants to wash his hands outside of that time, but doesn't.

 

Every X stickers, a high value 'reward'. I didn't make mine toys or anything - thought that might have been the end of month reward - it was more like for every 5 stickers, he got to choose from a list of fun activities or stuff like choosing dessert or the bedtime story.

 

If your ds gets super distressed though, I'd drop the rewards chart. I actually loathe this behavioural modification, generally, and only stuck with it b/c it worked. It worked within the first few days, minimal distress. I did support ds with feeling yuck when he couldn't do his behaviour. We didn't do it longer than a month.

 

All to say, try it, but don't be wedded to it. If it's not working or your ds is too distressed, just go on to the next strategy.

Thank you, this is very helpful.

 

Sent from my Nexus 5X using Tapatalk

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When my 4yo went through a stage like that, it was directly related to a library book we'd had with pictures of germs and viruses. I switched to a sorbolene type soap so the excema diminished and the behaviour reduced after a couple of weeks. Although I did realise how often we reinforce it by constantly telling kids to wash their hands. It's definitely tricky in a house like ours with numerous animals and outside play that does require thorough hand washing to get the balance.

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It sounds like OCD. I'm sorry. Poor kiddo.

 

The OCD foundation (online) https://iocdf.org/find-help/ has lists of Cognitive Behavioral therapists specially trained in OCD searchable by location. If you go a therapy route, you need someone who is trained in OCD--it's handled differently than other anxiety disorders. I agree with what Milovany wrote about not being able to reason out of it and, in fact, reasoning and reassurance tends to feed OCD.

 

The book linked above in this thread is really good--I highly recommend it. It will help you know what does and doesn't help. I would try to read that if you can before you attempt to do work on it so you don't inadvertently strengthen it.

 

His anxiety may be too high to work on it behaviorally, but you won't know until you try.

 

My son was/is really helped by N-acytyl cysteine. I wrote a thread about that several years ago. http://forums.welltrainedmind.com/topic/444394-effective-natural-treatment-for-ocd-perhaps-other-conditions/ But I don't know how typical his response to NAC is. I'll add, though, that Sometimes even kids need the SSRI's to tamp down the anxiety so they can learn behavioral things to manage it.

 

If this was sudden onset, please read up on PANDAS. It doesn't have to be strep. For a friend's daughter it was I think the walking pneumonia bacteria. They caught it quickly and a really long course of antibiotics cured her. Catching and treating quickly is really important for this.

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You have received very good advice in this thread.  One of my sons seemed to have a sudden onset of OCD symptoms a few years back, when he was probably 6 or 7 years old.  We did all of the testing for the PANDAS, just to be certain.  We tried to get him in to see a specialist but the wait was forever and we needed help right away. (Our son was really struggling with not being able to throw anything away and hiding trash and he was very upset by it.)  I ordered the book mentioned above and read it with him and then I reminded him often of the three main tools that it teaches a child to use when they are struggling with OCD telling them to do something over and over.  By the time he went to the appointment, the worst of his issues were already under control.  I'm really not sure if the specialist ever really helped him at all.  So definitely get the book (if the chart doesn't help) and read it yourself first, so you can see whether it is too far above his head (it says it is for 8 to 12 year olds).  Even if you think parts of it are too advanced to read to him directly, you will find it very helpful and can help him with the tools you learn.  Also, if you search for OCD children on Amazon, you will find another one that is rated for younger children (Mr. Worry; A Story About OCD).  I have never read that one so don't know how helpful it would be but I did happen to notice it was rated for younger children.

 

I hope you are able to get to the bottom of this quickly. 

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