Dr. Larry Larsen
---- — Dear Doctor,
A difficult situation has come up involving our 13-year-old son who is in middle school. He has been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. Because of this his homework takes him almost three hours a night and, even then, he does not get it all complete. This worries him a lot and makes him more anxious which seems to increase his symptoms. He actually shuts down from the pressure.
The school says not to worry and to just do what he can. This upsets him even more. He is very bright and a great student. We really are not sure what we should do.
The “situation” you mention happens. Other than therapy, which I certainly hope is available to your son, there are things you can do.
The trick with OCD is to go with it. Do not take it on. Rather, try to encourage a new way of thinking about something, a cognitive “set,” if you will. In this case it is homework.
Ask the school to help you set a new pattern and approach for your son. The school should be a party to working on a special contract with him. The contract is based on good science, which should be stressed with your boy. The idea is to do more with less. For example, a math problem done really well and completely understood is better than a mindless exercise sheet assigned for homework. In his case, he will agree to do only one problem, but it is to be completely understood. “Projects” should also be modified along the same lines.
The same pattern can be introduced in all subjects, to do more with less. This is called “mindful learning.” Your son will receive his homework from a teacher designated by the school. Dr. Ellen Langer, a professor at Harvard, has been researching “mindfulness” for many years. “The Power of Mindful Learning” is one of her books.
It is important to address this issue with his therapist and the school so you are all working from the same idea.