First let me say, the apple does not fall far from the tree.
My name is Breanne, and I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). *Surreptitiously waves hand*
When I was little, I would count my steps and turn light switches on and off a certain number of times. I would also get up right after my mom tucked me in so I could make my bed and put all of the stuffed animals in their places. Because I wouldn’t have time in the morning before school, obviously. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder alert: if you sleep on a towel on the floor so your bed looks perfect in the morning, you probably have OCD.
It’s gotten more manageable as I’ve gotten older (read: real life happens and there is no time for perfection). I’ve also done my best to hide any OCD tendencies from my toddler so that it wouldn’t be “learned behavior.” And either I haven’t done a very good job or it’s simply genetics at work, because at 2-and-a-half, her OCD tendencies are coming out full force.
So, what’s it really like living with an OCD toddler?
This is the biggest struggle for me. Due to my personal OCD tendencies, I want her to be dressed “appropriately” at all times. Her definition of that word differs greatly from mine. If you suggest pants or a jacket, she looks at them as though they are a direct spawn of Satan. It’s not that she just “doesn’t want to wear them,” it’s actually literal fear and anxiety.
So, I shove my comments away and let her choose her own clothes. Yesterday this consisted of two tutu skirts layered one over the other and a Christmas dress on top. Sometimes I feel like putting a sign on her back that says, “I dressed myself.” And then I tell myself, if she’s happy with how she looks, do I really care? (Okay yes, sometimes.)
You must always start at the very first page. Certain pictures have to be touched in a certain order. And don’t even think about skipping words. They will know. The key here? Patience (story of a parent’s life). I remove my agenda and let her do her thing.
There’s an order that toys have to be played with in. And messiness is fine in the moment, but all the things must be cleaned immediately after. Sticky hands? Mommy must remove every trace. The big thing for us here is to not make a big deal out of the dirtiness. Slowly take your time washing hands and cleaning up the mess. The more frenzied you become in trying to make them happy, the more anxious they become.
Whether it’s the television, phone, or iPad, the focus any kid gets when they’re in front of a screen can be pretty intense, let alone one with OCD tendencies. Turning the TV off in the middle of a show or ending a game before it’s finished used to result in a major meltdown.
Then, I introduced, “The Timer.” Best. Thing. Ever. When her screen time for the day is almost up, I set a timer two minutes before it’s over. I pause whatever she’s doing and have her look at me.
“When the timer goes off, we’re all done, okay?”
Giving her that warning and allowing her a sense of control in the timing has worked incredibly. We now actually do this for playtime and bath-time, too.
The real question here is, how many times can she wash her hands in the freaking bath. I don’t know, I lost count after 20. As previously mentioned, patience is key. For some reason, she feels she has to perform this task multiple times. It brings her a sense of peace. What’s the point in arguing with that?
Routine, routine, routine. Oh, and did I mention … routine? Yes, she wants her bottle, but first all her toys have to be picked up off the floor (I’m not complaining). Prayers must be said while she is taking her bottle, not before or after. And another good thing? At least I will always know her teeth are very clean, because if I happen to forget teeth brushing time, she will most certainly remind me.
The thing is, these rituals and routines provide a sense of security for her. They aren’t harmful; she simply processes things differently. And in order for her to work things out for herself, I have to continually remind myself to let go of my agenda and perception of how things “should be.” It’s an ongoing learning process for both of us, but I think she’s teaching me a lot more than I’m teaching her.