ZocdocAnswersWhat causes obsessive compulsive behavior in children?

Question

What causes obsessive compulsive behavior in children?

My six year old daughter needs to touch the door handle three times before she can open it. What causes this behavior? She didn't learn it from me or her brothers.

Answer

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) behaviors are not generally learned from the family, although the family environment is thought by some to contribute. Although it is not fully understood, these behaviors instead seem to stem from either some sort of chemical deficiency in the brain, or perhaps because of the way that the brain itself is wired. For that reason, it is common for people with OCD tendencies to have family members who also demonstrate obsessive symptoms, including behaviors such as binge eating and even hypochondriasis (being worried that one has a serious illness despite no evidence to suggest that there is such a condition), meaning that you might not have taught the behavior to your daughter, but might have shared it with her genetically. As more and more research is done to understand what causes this behavior, the brain chemical serotonin is increasingly implicated as having some effect. The good news is that there is much that can be done to help your daughter overcome these symptoms. Therapy, counseling, group interaction, and even medications can all help her to control these behaviors to a great degree. Please speak with her pediatrician for the appropriate recommendations and referrals.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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