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What are compulsions?

Now that you've learned more about obsessions, you are now ready to find out more about compulsions. When boys and girls get unwanted thoughts, images and urges, they often do things over and over again because they think these will make their anxiety and fears go away. The things they do over and over again are called compulsions. So the word "compulsive" in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder means doing certain behaviours that fit the obsession. For example, fearing germs (obsession) means the compulsion will be to wash repeatedly to "get rid" of the germs.

Let's see what compulsions the children below do, then you can talk with your parent or caregiver about what your compulsions might be. 

Billy's Compulsions

Billy's compulsion is to give into what OCD wants. For example, if he wants to wear his black jumper, his OCD tells him he has to wear his blue one or something bad will happen. He understands about magical thinking now, and that thoughts cannot make bad things happen, but he's still unsure about taking risks and living with uncertainty. Doing what OCD wants makes his anxiety go down for a little while, but he hasn't learned properly yet that this makes his obsession worse. Caring Carol said she is going to give him some tips to help him make his own decisions about what he wants to wear very soon, and also about making decisions and choices about other things too. 

Sarah's compulsions

Sarah's compulsion is not only getting in and out of bed before eventually lying down, she also gets her mom to say "goodnight" over and over too, until it sounds just right. She spends a long time dressing and undressing too, and until it feels right; and she will take forever evening up her duvet, straightening her books and making sure all the things she has collected are safe in one area of her room. She does these compulsions not only to "feel right" but also to feel less distress. But this doesn't last long, and so soon she is doing her compulsions all over again. Soon Caring Carol will help her to understand that her compulsions make her obsessions get worse, not better.

Johnny's Compulsion

Johnny washes his hands lots of times every day because he thinks this stops him from getting germs and spreading them; and also he wants to stop feeling filthy. Johnny feels less anxious when he washes his hands, but this doesn't last long, and soon he needs to wash his hands again. He is confused about feelings not being facts, so Caring Carol is going to help him learn more about this soon.

Jasmine's compulsions

Jasmine feels a little bit better about what Caring Carol said about the chance of a burglar being down her street is close to zero. However, Jasmine still feels like she has to give into the compulsion to double-check to make sure. She does this because it eases her distress, but only for a little while, and then she has to check again. She checks by texting her mom if she's out; or going into rooms and checking the windows are closed when she's at home; and also checking the doors are locked over and over again.

George's Compulsions

George has been very worried about is obsessive thinking, especially about volcanoes erupting. His compulsion is to avoid going out in bad weather; or if there is a storm coming he escapes by hiding under his bed. When he avoids going out or escapes and hides under his bed, he spends lots of time ruminating about his fears. Ruminating is another type of compulsion that you cannot see because it's done quietly in the mind - ruminating is like constant worry. The more George avoids, escapes the more he falls into ruminating about everything that worries him. So you can see how this makes his obsessive thinking worse, not better.

Question Section 

Here is a reminder of the questions in the QUESTION BOXES. See what you can remember about what you've just learned!

 Caring Carol says please ask your grown-up to help you!

  1. Why do you think children do compulsions?
  2. Do you think compulsions make the obsessions better or worse?
  3. If someone has a fear of germs (obsession) what will their compulsion usually be? 
  4. Anxiety gets better after doing a compulsion, but not for long. True or false?
  5. If compulsions make OCD worse, what do you think is the best thing to do?

Caring Carol wants you to know that she is proud of you for completing lesson two and says..


And now for your next lesson...

It's time to go to the next page for your next lesson. Simply click on the link below and learn how you can make your own choices by breaking the OCD cycle! 


Parents and caregivers 

The learning outcome for this lesson is for your child to understand that compulsions are behaviours that they think will "ward off danger" or make things "feel right" and to relieve anxiety temporarily. A further learning objective is for your child to grasp that resisting giving into compulsions raises anxiety but actually decreases this in the long run. This will be covered later. This learning page also reinforces the importance of thoughts not being directly linked to an action. (Thought-action fusion - Rachman and Shafran 1999). Children are further encouraged to trust facts based on probability rather than ideas based on feelings or guess work. Finally because doubts versus certainty play a big part in OCD, this is touched on in this lesson to prepare for further learning.

Copyright © 2013 Carol Edwards Updated 2016 Images: royalty free advanced search. Image above:

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