Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Growing Out of OCD

Like many kids, Jada has her peculiar routines. She hates when her hands or feet are dirty, leaves can sometimes freak her out, and often she'll do something like open and close a door so repetitively that you begin to worry that she has OCD. For others, it's dragging around a security blanket or biting your fingernails or holding your breath. Harmless, even cute, and almost always gone by the end of childhood.

But for a lot of kids, trauma intervenes. Maybe it's abuse at the hands of a parent, or a death in the family, or a serious accident. When trauma tumbles into a kid's life, those routines take on new purpose, from a nervous habit to a refuge from insecurity.

Think of just how crazy the world is. Now think of dealing with that craziness without the perspective you and I have, just from living a certain number of years. We know that if the sun sets tonight, it will rise tomorrow; if our spouse leaves the house, he or she will return soon; if the room is dark, you can turn on the light to see your way around.

Kids don't have nearly as much of that knowledge base to draw from, to help them sort through the craziness of life. And if you add additional craziness, like war or divorce or relocation, they're going to respond by digging deeper into those comfort objects and actions.

Of course, on one level, this is healthy and normal. You go on a trip, you bring the kid's favorite blanket. You change up your schedule, you sit them down to explain how the changes are going to affect them. You mix things up and they wet the bed or act up a little, you cut them slack because they're just having trouble adjusting.

The problem is when trauma doesn't just intervene but it moves in and gets comfy. Now all of a sudden, you have kids entering their teen and even adult years, and they're still dragging their security blankets or doing their OCD routines to get by. I don't think we realize just how prevalent this is, but with the world getting crazier and traumatic events becoming more frequent, it's only going to become more prevalent.

Which, back to Jada, is why I'm so glad we've been able to provide a safe and secure environment for our daughter to grow up. Not necessarily that we haven't had to relocate or haven't shaken things up -- some of the most well-adjusted people I know had childhoods where they had to move a lot or had parents who were spontaneous and free. But that we have a few, important routines that provide rhythm to her day; we're consistent with her in our parenting and discipline; and we give her room to roam, to experiment, to go at her pace.

We know we can't always keep the world's craziness from spilling into our lives. But we can give ourselves and our daughter a good foundation from which to deal with the craziness. I can't guarantee that she'll never need therapy or have some strange coping behavior on account of our bad parenting. But I hope I'll hear her say someday that she is confident and bold and courageous, because she had a childhood where she knew for sure that her parents loved her, where she could be a kid without having to worry about too many unpredictable variables, and where she thus be free to be free.

And if she's still afraid of leaves, well I'm sure there's medication for that.
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