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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Should I be worried that my daughter has OCD?

    my daughter gets very upset when things just arent perfect… from not having the fan off (or on) to having the pirate lego pieces all mixed up with the rest of it… or not getting a kiss at bedtime
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  • 1


    Dr Paul McQueen

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    From the information you have provided there are no clear signs to be worried your daughter has OCD. It is not unusual for young children to be particular or fastidious about certain things; and this will come out more in some children's personalities than in others. Obsessive compulsive disorder is not a disorder of repetitive behaviour, “fussiness” or “pickyness”: it is a condition where certain actions are done repetitively to try to prevent some feared outcome. For example, repetitive handwashing might be done to try to eliminate the risk of becoming sick from germs; or repetitive checking of locks to eliminate the risk of a violent break-in. From your brief description, it does not sound like your daughter is upset about these things because of any fear of what might happen if they aren't perfect. And, again, it is quite common for young children to like consistency and routines.

    Assuming your daughter is still quite young, and even if her “very upset” is quite extreme, try to start by assuming this is normal behaviour and an opportunity to gently help your daughter to learn how to manage her emotions and appropriately, verbally express her feelings and wishes.

    If this continues to be a problem as your daughter gets older, there are a number of other possibilities besides OCD that could be behind her behaviour, and you might need to consult a child psychologist or pediatrician to conduct a thorough assessment.

  • Anthony Berrick


    What you've described certainly doesn't sound anywhere near the severity of what is normally classified as OCD.

    We all want our kids not to get upset, but even if we could give our kids as pain-free a childhood as humanly possible, adult life often contains very painful emotions, which we all need to learn how to cope with.

    So, as unpleasant as it is, each time your daughter gets upset actually presents an opportunity for her to learn something about her emotions, and her relationship with you, by the way that you respond to her.

    If her demands are excessive or unreasonable, then certainly don't 'give in' just to calm her down, as that only teaches her that her emotions are in charge, and there is no way to make room for discomfort. 

    Instead, compassionately empathise with her distress (even if the lego thing is 'silly', her emotions are not silly) but gently and assertively say 'no'. As long as she is upset, continue to offer emotional comfort to help her deal with her emotions. Once her emotions have subsided, you could talk about the 'issue' (e.g. the lego) if you feel that she doesn't understand why you said 'no'. But try to avoid getting into a logical argument about why the lego can be all mixed in together while she's still emotional.

    Over time, she will learn that her emotions are valid but that they don't have to control her choices, she can rely on you for loving emotional support, and when her mum says "no", she doesn't back down. That would be pretty cool, right?

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