Child & Adolescent Anxiety Research

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unwanted and intrusive thoughts, images, or urges (obsessions), and/or repetitive, ritualized behaviors (compulsions). OCD affects 1-3% of children and adolescents.


Obsessions are intrusive & persistent thoughts or images that are distressing and difficult to control. They can be very time-consuming, and frequently cause problems in school, relationships, and daily living. Common obsessions in children and adolescents include:

  • Contamination - excessive concern or worry about germs, dirt, or illnesses
  • Forbidden thoughts - unwanted sexual, aggressive, or religious thoughts or images (e.g., fear of harming oneself or others, excessive concern about committing a sin, thoughts about offending God)
  • Superstitious thoughts - lucky or unlucky numbers, colors, or words


Compulsions are behaviors or rituals that must be done repetitively or in a certain way, often as a means of decreasing anxiety associated with one's obsessions. Common compulsions in children and adolescents are:

  • Washing/Cleaning - excessive or ritualized hand washing or showering, cleaning of personal objects, or anything done to prevent or remove contact with germs or contaminants
  • Checking - checking that you did not make a mistake, that doors are locked or the oven is off
  • Ordering/Repeating - rereading or rewriting, repeating routine activities (e.g., walking in and out of doorways, getting up and down from chairs, need for symmetry or evenness)


Tics are sudden, rapid, recurrent movements or vocalizations that are not done on purpose and are difficult to control. Tics usually occur many times a day and can interfere with daily activities.
  • Examples of motor tics are eye blinking, head jerking, shoulder shrugging, mouth/tongue movements, and hand movements.
  • Examples of vocal tics are sniffing, throat clearing, grunting, coughing, and blurting out syllables.
  • Tourette's Disorder is characterized by motor and vocal tics for at least a year.
  • Chronic motor or vocal tic disorder involves either motor or vocal tics for at least a year.