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OCD Sprouts Early

Lots of young children have OCD like symptoms that never develop into the disorder. For example, we have two grand-babies under the age of two. One of our granddaughters, Alaina, comes over to our house and gets the same book out of the same bookcase and pulls one of us over to read her that book about 10 times. Throughout the day, whenever she is tired or stressed, she finds the book and finds an adult and the book is read another few times. This simple pattern provides her with comfort and a sense of security in her world.

Our grandson, Carter, has a different pattern. He usually goes to two kitchen drawers (that we have especially designed for him). In one drawer, he takes out the measuring cups, several large stirring spoons, and what ever else we have put in the drawer. Then he moves to the next drawer where he has completely unraveled some aluminum foil (we’ve since moved the roll to a higher drawer). After getting “his” utensils on the floor, he is ready to begin exploring. During this time, he seriously walks around the house opening and closing all of the doors. With his work done, he can go off to play.

These rituals are perfectly normal. However, if they continue to occur when the kids are 6 or 7, we might begin to be concerned. That’s because OCD, even more so than depression or anxiety, usually starts to make its appearance during childhood.

We know that OCD is caused by a mixture of nature and nurture. But what can parents do to make sure that they don’t increase the odds of having a child with OCD?

Giving too much information to young children. The world is a scary place. But your 2 or 3 year old should not be exposed to news stories about violence, kidnapping, or terror. It is the parents’ responsibility to keep a young child safe.

Be careful about what you say. Kids tend to believe what their parents say. Here are a few examples: Johnny age 5 kicks his 4 year old sister for taking her toy. It’s perfectly okay to tell him not to kick or to send him off to his room. But telling Johnny that he will burn in hell because he kicked his sister is not going to help Johnny learn how to better express his emotions, it’s more likely to make sure he never kicks his sister in front of you. Your older daughter, age 6, takes a bath with her younger sister age 3. The 2 year old starts to cry because her sister splashed water in her eyes. You’re tired and yell at the 6 year old, “What are you trying to do? Your sister could become blind. She might fall back and hit her head and drown.”

Modeling OCD behavior in front of your kids. If you have OCD, you might actually teach your kids how to become more obsessive-compulsive. That’s a very good reason that getting treatment for yourself is especially important if you have kids. A father with OCD frequently tells his son, “Don’t play in the dirt, you might get sick,” or an OCD mother asks her daughter, “Are you sure you closed the windows in the house? We don’t want robbers to get in.”

Of course, everyone makes remarks like that once in a while. However, if a parent is constantly pointing out how dangerous the world is, the child can become convinced and may start to have some obsessive thoughts or compulsive actions in order to stay safe. None of this is to say that OCD is known to directly stem from parenting. However, over the years we’ve observed the influence of parenting on kids who do have OCD. It’s pretty complex. If you are worried about your child, talk to your doctor and get a referral for a mental health professional that has training in the assessment and treatment of OCD.

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OCD Sprouts Early

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D.

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of adults and children with obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as personality disorders, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and learning disorders. Dr. Smith is a widely published author of articles and books to the profession and the public, including: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2E), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth, and Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be? Her website is:

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APA Reference
Smith, L. (2009). OCD Sprouts Early. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Mar 2009
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