Children and Rituals

When my daughter was about two or three years old, she had a bedtime ritual where she lined up ten of her dolls and stuffed animals on the floor. They had to be in the right order, at the right angle, touching or not touching each other in a specific way. If these “friends” were not arranged just so, she would get upset, and then have to adjust each and every one of them until she got it just right. Then she could go to sleep.

And she doesn’t have OCD.

Rituals are a normal part of childhood, and they play an important role in children’s overall development. Rituals create order for children as they grow and try to make sense of the world around them. For example, a bath, story time, and cuddles every night before bed give children structure and a sense of security. They feel safe; they know what to expect.  Everything is as it should be.

Wow. Rituals never sounded so good.  So how could something so wonderful cause so much distress?

Typically, children without OCD will be soothed and comforted by their rituals, whereas a child with OCD will experience only a fleeting calm. Anxiety and distress will always return, and the child will feel compelled to complete the ritual again. As I discussed in this previous post on rituals, this feeling of “incompleteness” is a telltale sign of OCD.

Another thing to watch for if you think your child may have OCD is the amount of time he or she spends ritualizing, and how much it interferes with his or her life. Typically, spending an hour or more a day completing rituals should raise some red flags.

Diagnosing OCD in young children is not always easy, as there are many ways the disorder can manifest itself. And OCD is tricky. Just when I was really starting to worry about my daughter, she began to care less and less about the arrangement of her “friends.” On the other hand, my son, who has never lined up anything in his life, developed OCD.

Recent research suggests that OCD often begins in childhood. I know this is no surprise to a lot of people, as what I hear most often from OCD sufferers is, “I’ve had symptoms of OCD for as long as I can remember.” I’d love to hear from those with OCD. When did you first realize you had the disorder, or that something was wrong? What were your “early” symptoms like? How did your families react? Chances are the more we share, the more people may see themselves or their children, and seek help.


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19 Responses to Children and Rituals

  1. My OCD showed up at around age 7– the biggest ritual in my life at that time was confession. I believe that my OCD was brought about by strep throat gone awry (also known as PANDAS:– I had strep throat A LOT as a child, which now I see was a big warning sign!

  2. ocdtalk says:

    Wow. I didn’t realize your OCD was likely related to PANDAS…’s definitely something parents should be aware of. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Ann says:

    I first noticed bits and pieces of mine around 1995, when I was 23. Kicked in for good at 25. Seems like these are the two most common: having it basically forever and onset in the early 20s. But then you hear about people who first noticed OCD at age 35, so apparently anything is possible.

  4. ocdtalk says:

    Interesting……I guess we know just about anything is possible with OCD. Thanks for the comment.

  5. Lolly says:

    I first started noticing mine around age 7, I had impulses I couldn’t control, touching impulses. I had to touch my heel, then touch the other one to make it feel even. It was so annoying and I remember the anxiety that I felt back then. I told no one so my family didn’t react. I remember obsessing at the age of about 10 that I had AIDS, or afrAIDS as it is more often called in the OCD world. I did tell my mom, and she laughed and told me I was being ridiculous. For someone who had no idea what OCD was, could you blame her? I don’t. Intervention would have been nice though, because since then it was one thing or another until my early 20’s, when I was taken to the doctor for meds for anxiety… And then another 8 years to discover the OCD diagnosis.

  6. Lolly says:

    BTW, PANDAS is intriguing!!! Thanks for posting that, Jackie.

  7. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks for sharing Lolly. No, of course, how could you blame your mom? Hindsight sure is a wonderful thing though, and I so hope that with all of our sharing, people will become more aware of what OCD really is, and not have to wait twenty plus years, as you did, for the correct diagnosis.

  8. Juli says:

    I first started showing signs when I was around nine years old, during a particularly nasty bout of mono. I hid it with a lot of success until I was 22. People noticed some of my peculiarities, but no one figured it was something like this.

  9. 71 & Sunny says:

    Believe it or not, I’m told I showed symptoms of anxiety as a 6 month old infant. I remember my 1st anxiety attack at the age of 3 or 4. As a small child I constantly “tattled on myself” if I thought I did something wrong. I was plagued with doubts as a 6 or 7 year old. If someone asked me if I liked something or not, I could only say “I guess so” because I didn’t know what I actually felt and I didn’t want to lie and give the wrong answer. I was also very worried about hurting others. The symptoms varied greatly in intensity throughout my life until they got disabling when I hit my late 20’s. I don’t think my parents recognized anything wrong, they just thought I was a conscientious person.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Six months old! That’s certainly the youngest age I’ve ever heard of in relation to anxiety……. and such a common thread, that so many parents and families had no idea about the seriousness of the problem, or that there even was a problem.

  10. Tina says:

    Oh, my, so many of the things you’ve written in the comments are so familiar. I was probably 8 or 9, perhaps younger, when I started counting. I was closer to 10 when I became overwhelmed with guilt and confessed to my mother, even if I just thought I may have done something bad or had a bad thought. The washing came in in my very early teens. And the checking/rereading pages in books became strong when I was in seventh grade.
    My parents had no clue what was going on. I just wrote about this yesterday on my blog in the “Treatment, Part One” post. I got no treatment as a child or teenager.
    I used to accept it when my mother told me years later that “no one knew anything about OCD then.” But it wasn’t true. The very first person I met with OCD was the same age as me (we met in our 30s), and she was diagnosed at age 11.
    Yep, I have some bitterness there. But I’m working on it.

  11. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks so much for sharing Tina. I’m going to head over and read your blog post now!

  12. Ally says:

    My first OCD symptoms came when I was 6. I could only step on tiles of a certain color, and I had to move diagonally, when in the kitchen. I had to jump a certain number of stairs. I didn’t tell anyone, because I thought, in my six-year-old head, that if I did, I would have to do it more. I thought of it as a voice. Every time, it would ask me to do more and more. I could ward it off for a time by doing what it asked, but it always came back, asking me to do more and longer, more and longer, more and longer.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks for commenting Ally……how are you doing now?

      • Ally says:

        Better now, but sometimes it gets worse every once in a while. And right now, it’s better, but my obsessions about hurting someone are worse right now, though they’re very new, having started just a month or so ago. I still haven’t worked up the courage to tell anyone but my best friend, and I swore her to secrecy unless I give her permission to tell.

        P.S. I’m using my junk email to write this post because I think its “Gravatar” is prettier. XD So don’t get confused by that.

  13. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks for all your comments Ally…..have you ever tried Exposure Response Prevention Therapy? It can be very successful…..I hope you will look into it if you haven’t already……..

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