Ask An Expert / Anxiety

My 11-year-old son has started having crushes on teachers and moms of friends. He has an obsessive personality and finds this all very embarrassing. What can I do?

Sexual obsessions can be really upsetting for kids

Rachel Busman, PsyD
Rachel Busman, PsyD

Interim Senior Director, Anxiety Disorders Center, Director, Selective Mutism Service

Child Mind Institute

I completed an eight-week course for parents of anxious children but nothing has prepared me for what my 11-year-old son needs my help with. Just recently he has been having crushes on teachers / mums of friends / virtually any woman with a pulse. Some people would find this funny and say he'll grow out of it, but the fact that he has an obsessive personality is worrying me a lot. Obviously he is finding this very embarrassing. We have told him all the right things, that its totally normal for him to feel this way and it proves that he is maturing, but it is making him feel so unhappy and he cries because he doesn't like feeling this way.I want to know what the best way forward is for him. He has an important school year coming up and I fear that he is going to do badly if we don't get this sorted ASAP. Our family liaison worker at the school has said that he has generalized anxiety disorder but Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) didn't really take this further.

Thank you so much for reaching out. It seems like you’re doing everything you can to make yourself more knowledgeable and be in the best position to help your child.

I agree that the symptoms you are describing aren’t funny — it can be really upsetting for children when they are having obsessions or ruminations of a sexual nature, and it’s hard for the parents, too. You’re doing the right thing in letting him know that some of his feelings are very natural. However, since he has an anxiety disorder, too much reassurance can actually be a bad thing because it can reinforce his anxiety. For example, if you reassure him every time he asks, it may reduce his anxiety in the short term, but it doesn’t teach him how to cope with the anxiety long term and may in fact make it worse.

It sounds like what you need right now is an expert in anxiety disorders. If you can go back to the people at CAMHS and work with someone who specializes in anxiety disorders, that sounds like a good option. I recommend working with a treatment provider who does something called cognitive behavioral therapy, which is usually the treatment of choice for anxiety disorders. CBT teaches kids to understand and even change their thoughts and manage their anxiety with a repertoire of effective coping strategies. When kids are having obsessions, a CBT technique called “exposure and response prevention” is often used. This treatment works by carefully exposing your child to the things or ideas that make him anxious in small doses so that over time he becomes more habituated to them.