Real Life Stories
Five-year-old Alex can't go to sleep until he kisses his mother five times on each cheek after she closes his closet in a certain way. He has no other fixed behaviors.
Childhood rituals and superstitions differ with age. At about 2 1/2 years of age, children begin to expect routines; at mealtime, bathing and bedtime rituals are frequent and help to stabilize the child's world. Between the ages of five and six, children develop group rituals, during which they play games with rules and rhymes. Older children begin to collect objects and may become preoccupied and obsessed with hobbies. Ritualized behaviors help children to become socialized and to master anxiety and are not evidence of obsessive or compulsive behaviors.
Jesse, 10, cleans his teeth so frequently that he uses a box of toothpicks each week and his gums bleed profusely. Each day he uses a half box of Q-tips to clean his ears and a roll of toilet paper when he goes to the toilet. When he does his homework, Jesse can spend an hour on the same page, erasing and rewriting words because he's sure he didn't get them right.
Ashley, 16, reports that each time she leaves a classroom, passes the principal's office or leaves school, she has to imagine the number 12 on a clock and say the words "good luck" to herself. She reports that she can't stop thinking about the words "good luck." If she tries to stop herself from thinking about these words, she becomes very anxious and worries that she'll have a heart attack. In the classroom, she is often frozen in her seat, unable to respond. She worries that any decision she makes will result in something dreadful happening to her parents. Before going to sleep, she closes the bedroom door four times, turns the lights on and off four times and looks out the window and under her bed twelve times.
Alex, 5, is preoccupied with rituals appropriate to his age. They are mild and do not affect his enjoyment of life. Jesse and Ashley have been diagnosed as having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.