Many families face a decision to relocate due to a loss of income, the financial opportunity of career advancement, a divorce or the death of a partner that prompts the need to reduce living expenses. These changes in daily life can create emotional turmoil for the entire family, particularly if you have a child with OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Relocating a child diagnosed with OCD can escalate behaviors unless careful planning keeps the family routine as normal as possible.
Children with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a type of anxiety disorder, have thoughts that overwhelm them with what might happen if they don’t complete their specific ritual or compulsion. They often have difficulty explaining why they must perform the task but realize that it does relieve their anxiety for a short while after they have completed it.
The whole family must cope with the behaviors of OCD, as it takes a lot of time for afflicted individuals to finish chores, homework and other daily tasks. When preparing for any change that will affect the OCD child -- especially one as momentous as a move -- have a family meeting. It is important to involve everyone in making plans for this new adjustment. Reduce the anxiety level by looking up information about the new community, schools and housing options online. Discuss possible school, church, sports and extracurricular activities for everyone, and plan to visit and sample the different choices when you get to your new location.
The OCD child may try to dominate the family conversation with outbursts when presented with these changes. Keep the lines of communication open by asking and answering questions, and focus on the ways in which the move will benefit the family as a whole. Continue to structure the home environment consistently with already-established rules and roles for safety. This will help the OCD child feel safe and reassure him that only the home location, not the family structure, is changing.
Act with the assumption that everything else about the family will remain the same. Try to be an attentive listener when your child shares his apprehensions. Empathize and acknowledge his concerns about this important transition in life. Allow time for your child to grieve his loss and work toward acceptance. Reinforce the positive aspects of the move, reminding him that it is the best choice for the entire family.
The New Beginning
Establishing the sameness of surroundings should be a priority when relocating a child with OCD. If it is age-appropriate, have your child pack her favorite items at the top of her own boxes. This will allow her to unpack those items first when you arrive at your new home and will make her room feel nurturing and familiar right away. Keeping consistent meal times, play times and bedtimes will help your child adjust quickly to the new environment.
Obsessions and compulsions are illogical and variable. Some days will be worse than others because of the unpredictable reactions that occur when OCD children are stressed or exposed to their personal triggers. Reach a happy medium with your interventions. Parents shouldn’t hyper-focus on the needs of the OCD child. Instead, periodically check in with your child to determine whether additional support is needed.
Do focus on the environment. A well-organized bedroom gives your child a place to relax and feel safe while you set up the rest of the home. Despite the extra work and new surroundings, continue to keep the core routine as normal as possible, to minimize everyone’s anxiety. Never let the OCD child control the home, even in a new situation. Specify that she is free to rearrange her belongings in her own room but not to handle other family members’ personal things. As your OCD child experiences change in a successful manner, she will have fewer fears when facing similar challenges in the future.