To Call

Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive Thoughts
How to Help a Child with Intrusive Thoughts

Struggling with intrusive thoughts and emotions can be overwhelming for your daughter. Clearview Girls Academy understands this challenge and offers professional therapy and round-the-clock care for girls aged 12-18 who grapple with intrusive thoughts stemming from trauma or significant losses. As a leading therapeutic center and boarding school, Clearview provides tailored individual and family therapy to help girls in crisis overcome these challenges.

Read the article below to gain insights into the emotional and behavioral issues linked to intrusive thoughts that your daughter may be facing. Contact us online or call (888) 416-3029 to learn more about how we can support her on this healing journey.


About Intrusive Thoughts

An intrusive thought is any unwanted image, urge, impulse, or feeling in your mind. Environmental factors can trigger these thoughts or appear seemingly out of nowhere. It can feel distressing, overwhelming, and scary for children and teens.

Understanding more about intrusive thoughts in children and teens, including causes and how to cope, can help parents better support their kids. It’s also important to know when to seek treatment for the underlying causes of intrusive thoughts.


Key Takeaways

  • Intrusive thoughts are involuntary, unwanted, and often distressing thoughts, images, or urges.
  • Persistent intrusive thoughts may be symptomatic of underlying mental health issues like anxiety, OCD, ADHD, trauma, or depression.
  • ADHD intrusive thoughts often involve hyper-fixations, ruminations, and uncontrolled racing thoughts. OCD symptoms include both obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
  • Parents can support a child with intrusive thoughts by normalizing their experiences, helping them accept their thoughts, reframing negative thoughts, and seeking appropriate treatment.


My Child is Confessing to Bad Thoughts—What Does it Mean?

Intrusive thoughts in children and teens can range from worries about schoolwork to fears about death and dying, to graphic sexual images, and many other “bad” thoughts. The comment element is that they are unwanted and disturbing. A child with intrusive thoughts often experiences worry and distress as a result of their constant rumination.

For example, if they have intrusive thoughts about someone getting hurt or injured, they might become increasingly worried about that person’s health and safety. Sometimes, they put so much effort into pushing the thought, impulse, or imagery out of their mind that they can’t focus on anything else. 

Intrusive thoughts are scary when you don’t understand what’s happening and why. They can feel terrifying to a child and cause alarm for parents. However, having these types of thoughts is fairly common among young people. Intrusive thoughts aren’t inherently harmful or bad.

However, they can be symptomatic of mental health issues like trauma, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, ADHD, and more. If intrusive thoughts are interfering with your child’s daily life and activities and are causing significant distress, seek professional treatment immediately.

Intrusive Thoughts

Examples of Intrusive Thoughts in Children and Teens

 Intrusive thoughts in children and adolescents can include the following:

  • Worries about school
  • Concerns about death and dying
  • Worries about causing themselves or others harm
  • Fears about upcoming events or situations
  • Obsessions with germs or dirt
  • Thoughts related to a specific phobia, like fear of spiders or heights
  • Flashbacks to a traumatic experience
  • Thoughts focused on body image

Sometimes, intrusive thoughts are just part of being human. But if they feel persistent, distressing, and disruptive, it’s worth investigating what might be causing them and how to keep them at bay.


Mental Health Problems That Cause Intrusive Thoughts

It can be difficult to tell whether a mental health issue is causing intrusive thoughts or making them worse. Having intrusive thoughts doesn’t always mean there are underlying mental health issues. However, if intrusive thoughts are a recent development or have become more extreme, one or more of the following mental health factors may play a role.

  1. Trauma: if a child has experienced trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder, they may have distressing and recurring thoughts or flashbacks caused by the traumatic situation.
  2. Anxiety: Generalized anxiety disorder can cause worst-case or fear-based scenarios or imagery to play in a loop in a child’s head. These might include worries about upcoming events or existential fears like death and dying.
  3. Depression: Depression symptoms can include intrusive thoughts that a teen or child can feel powerless against. These may include thoughts about loneliness, suicide, or self-harm.
  4. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): OCD involves both obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior. A child or teen with OCD may experience a distressing, obsessive thought that they don’t know how to get rid of, which causes anxiety, fear, shame, and other difficult emotions. They may then engage in compulsive behaviors to decrease their feelings of distress.
  5. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): People with ADHD often experience intrusive thoughts. They struggle to regulate their attention, so they sometimes go down a “thought rabbit hole” without meaning to. They may also obsessively hyperfocus on a new task or activity.

Sometimes, mental health problems like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder can cause intrusive thoughts as well. A person with schizophrenia, for example, may seem paranoid that someone is watching or following them or may describe experiencing things that are difficult for an outsider to understand.


At What Age Do Kids Get Intrusive Thoughts?

Almost everyone will experience some version of intrusive thoughts throughout their life. Intrusive thoughts can arise at any age but most often appear from ages 8 and 12. They can also form during the teen years and into the 20s and beyond. 

However, OCD can emerge in children as young as 4 or 5. Intrusive thoughts can also arise in young children who do not have OCD. Be aware of whether prepubescent kids or teens are having intrusive thoughts so you can access support right away if needed.

Intrusive Thoughts

How to Help a Child with Intrusive Thoughts

Here are some ways to help your son or daughter with intrusive thoughts.

  • Help them learn to accept their intrusive thoughts:

Have you ever noticed that the more you tell yourself not to think about something, the more you obsess over it? This same logic applies to intrusive thoughts and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many kids feel intense guilt, shame, and/or fear around their intrusive thoughts, and they naturally try to push hard thoughts away. But that’s likely to make the thoughts stronger, more persistent, and even scarier. Helping your child understand, name, and accept their thoughts can take some of their power away.

Accepting a thought doesn’t mean giving in to the urges or impulses of that thought. It just means acknowledging the thought’s existence and being okay with it being there. This process can take a lot of practice and patience. It often requires recognizing and accepting uncomfortable emotions or sensations that occur in conjunction with intrusive thoughts.

  • Help them understand the difference between a thought and an action

Kids often assume that their thoughts have much more power than they do. They often think that any thought they have will translate into reality, which can be terrifying.

A thought is just a thought. It often has no inherent meaning and doesn’t make the thinker bad. Help your child recognize that their thoughts aren’t who they are and don’t need to be acted on. These reassurances can greatly reduce the amount of anxiety a child or teen feels around intrusive thoughts.

  • Normalize intrusive thoughts

Children often experience deep guilt, anxiety, and fear around their intrusive thoughts. Having difficult emotions like these is tough enough as an adult. Kids can’t yet regulate or properly understand their emotions without help.

Shining light on your child’s intrusive thoughts can help educate them and dispel feelings of guilt and fear. Explain to them that almost everyone gets intrusive thoughts and that they aren’t alone or bad.

  • Help your child reframe negative thoughts

Negative and intrusive thoughts are typically distorted and don’t fully reflect reality. Teaching your child to reframe their negative thoughts can help them feel more in control of their circumstances and improve their mental health.

Helping a child reframe their negative thoughts can be as simple as shifting “I’m going to fail this test and get held back” to “I can work with my teacher to make sure I understand the material ahead of time.” Older teens can learn to interrogate their intrusive thoughts. Ask teens questions like, “What other ways you could look at this situation?” and “What facts or evidence do you have to support this thought?”

  • Seek professional support for intrusive thoughts

It’s not unusual for young people to have some intrusive thoughts. But if the distressing thoughts interfere with a child’s or teen’s ability to enjoy life and do daily tasks, seeking professional treatment is essential. 


At Clearview Girls Academy, our approach includes:

  1. Individual therapy to uncover and process trauma
  2. Family therapy to rebuild trust and connection
  3. Counseling to learn skills and tools for dealing with intrusive thoughts
  4. Group therapy so teen girls learn they are not alone and build a strong support network of peers
  5. Experiential modalities like art, music, Equine, and Adventure Therapy.
  6. Through our whole-person philosophy of care, teens and families find long-term, sustainable healing.

Intrusive Thoughts

We Want to Help Your Daughter

Since 1996, young girls have come to Clearview Girls Academy to flourish, think positively about themselves, improve their relationships, and move on to a better future. 

Girl students at Clearview live together in our beautiful lodge and meet regularly with their therapists. Their therapists help them confront fears and gain confidence in a safe, nurturing, and structured environment in the foothills and mountains of northwestern Montana. 

We enroll girls year-round. Please call us for more information on how we can help your daughter improve her life at Clearview Girls Academy–(888) 416-3029.



Inquire online now and ask us about insurance.

residential therapy for girls
residential therapy for girls
residential therapy for girls

residential therapy for girls
residential therapy for girls
residential therapy for girls
residential therapy for girls

We can also help you in your search for other therapeutic homes for troubled kids, boarding schools for troubled youth, therapeutic boarding schools, behavioral schools near me, or therapeutic boarding schools. Clearview Residential Therapy and School is a Christian therapeutic boarding school for troubled teenage girls offering teen counseling for girls with adoption issues (attachment issues), self-harm (self-mutilation) or cutting, or eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, anorexia nervosa). Other behavioral issues and disorders we deal with include: defiance, depression, post traumatic stress, abuse, and general anxiety. If you have an out of control girl, please think about Clearview Residential Therapy and School offers teen counseling and teen counselors for troubled girls. We offer counseling for troubled teens and out-of-control teens and especially work with adopted girls with emotional disorders. If you are searching for residential treatment centers for girls, troubled teen schools or troubled teen boarding schools, you have found one. Therapeutic boarding school for girls with teen counseling and therapy like Clearview is also called “schools for troubled teens” or “residential treatment centers.” This is one of the few affordable residential treatment centers and schools for teens. Clearview is an all-girl school that provides troubled pre-teen and teenage girls with counseling and adolescent therapy. The Christian therapeutic residential school for troubled girls serves at-risk girls seeking a therapeutic boarding school in California, on the West Coast, in Oklahoma, in Nevada, or Minnesota, or Washington State, and in Idaho. We use Trust-based Relational Intervention, Dialectic Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Trauma Therapy such as EMDR and Lifespan Integration, Reality Therapy, and Trauma Therapy, plus Neurofeedback and Craniosacral therapy treatments.

Intrusive Thoughts
Intrusive thoughts and emotions can be overwhelming for your daughter. Clearview understands this challenge and offers professional therapy.