As children grow and mature, they may pose unusual questions or make odd comments. For example, your child may ask about death and the afterlife, or science and nature, as well as express quirky ideas such as believing a teacher has X-ray vision or a classmate never sleeps.

These unusual questions and ideas represent your child’s interest in his/her world, and a desire to understand how things work. Most importantly, your child is curious about these topics and isn’t bothered when odd ideas “pop” up. S/he might even find them funny. However, for a small minority of children, unusual ideas or thoughts are not due to curiosity or learning. Rather, these thoughts are experienced as unwanted and intrusive and may be part of an anxiety disorder called obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

OCD is made up of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted and upsetting thoughts, images or urges to do things. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts intended to reduce the distress caused by the obsessions. The first thing you need to tell your child or teen is that everyone has some intrusive and disturbing thoughts once in a while. Even wildly, crazy thoughts like shouting “fire” in the movies or imagining hitting someone. Just because you think something, doesn’t make it true or mean you’re going to act on it.

It may also help your child to understand that the more s/he believes the thoughts are strange, bad or crazy, the more likely the thoughts are to stick around. This is like dealing with a bully. The more your child reacts to the bully, the more power the bully has. However, if your child doesn’t engage with the bully, and refocuses his or her attention on more meaningful things, the bully will eventually get lost. So when strange thoughts pop up, instead of running away from them or analyzing them, encourage your child to label them as bully-thoughts. Help your child to tell the bully, “go away,” or “leave me alone,” and go do a fun activity that can take his/her mind away from the power of the bully.