Normal Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviors in Young Children

“Do it again! Again!” That's the refrain that parents the world over hear from toddlers and preschoolers. Before parents worry that the child has a budding case of obsessive compulsive disorder, understand that some repetitive behavior is normal. Recognizing what’s normal can bring peace to the family.

Security Object

One of the most common obsessive behaviors in children is having a security object. This could be a blanket, stuffed animal or doll. A child will hold, stroke or squeeze this object when she feels anxious, sleepy or uncomfortable. The object relieves tension in the child. According to the Early Childhood Parenting Center, this object reminds the child of her parents 1. She holds and cuddles the comfort object just as the parent holds and cuddles the child.


Thumb-sucking is a common compulsive behavior in young children. Despite its name, children suck more than their thumbs. A child might suck on any or all of the fingers, the whole fist or a pacifier. Many children start sucking a digit in infancy in an almost reflexive way. As the child matures, he no longer needs to suck a bottle or breast, but the sucking behavior continues to calm him. In stressful or tense circumstances, he might go back to this habit as a way to remind himself that his needs will be met.

Repeated Play

Toddlers and preschoolers will often return to the same story, toy or video. This can become tiresome to the adult, but it isn’t a cause for worry. Toddlers are learning that objects stay the same. So, while it is obvious to the adult that a story is the same regardless of how many times it is read, the story isn’t going to change, this is a new concept to a toddler. By repeating the story, the child learns that some things don’t change.

Breaking Bad Habits

Many of these obsessive behaviors will fade as the child grows. One day the child will go to bed and leave her favorite blankie behind or she is bored by the video that she has watched 100 times. However, parents sometimes need to speed up the process. For example, intense thumb-sucking at 5 or 6 years of age could lead to an overbite, according to KidsHealth. Talk to the child and help ease her anxiety. Create a reward chart with goals. When she avoids her habit, she receives or works toward a reward.

When to Worry

If the child will not stop the behavior, even with a reward system in place, talk to your child's pediatrician. In addition, if the child develops a habit that is harmful such as head banging or pulling out strands of hair, it is essential that the pediatrician is involved. According to the Harvard Medical School, a genetic component might lie behind obsessive compulsive disorder 3. Feel free to discuss any family history of OCD with your doctor.

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