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Parenting a Child With Mental Illness

October 9, 2017

My mother used to tell me that my children were so lucky to have me for a mom since I had a professional background in special education. She said they would be blessed by my understanding of how to teach and how to manage behavior. 


But one of the first things I learned about parenting and later homeschooling a child with a mental illness is that I was far from prepared for what was to come. Mental illnesses does not make sense or have the typical patterns that challenging behaviors in children usually do. 



It's like a picky eater who likes a food one day and despises it the next, appalled that you would even dare to offer that wretched food. Parenting a child with a mental illness works the same way. What helps one day may not help the next. And what sets your child off one day may be a piece of cake the next. Even the variability within a single day can be enormous...and exhausting. 


One of my sons has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus (PANDAS). This week is OCD Awareness Week, a time to help people understand this illness that can be debilitating at times. OCD is not simply someone who is overly clean or organized or even like the television character Monk. OCD is a disorder that plagues people with unwanted thoughts, images, and painful compulsions. 


All of the behavioral strategies that I learned in college had to be thrown out the window when dealing with my son's OCD. Mental illness does not follow the same rules as behavior, so those tried and true behavioral strategies simply didn't work with my son. 


Until I realized that fact, I beat myself up. I knew I had been able to help other children with their behavior. Why couldn't I help my own son? 


That is the burden of parenting a child with a mental illness. You never know what you will face each day and sometimes each hour. But you have to be prepared and ready to intercede whenever you are needed. Thankfully, you also get to take immense joy and pride in your child when you see their progress. 


My son recently completed an intensive treatment program for his OCD. He's working harder than ever to deal with his problems. I couldn't be more proud. And you know what? I have no doubt that, even though his OCD may continue to plague him throughout his life, if he can continue to fight it, he will have an amazing testimony to share with others on the other side of this. 


For more information about OCD or PANDAS, please contact the International OCD Foundation or your child's pediatrician. 

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