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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Obsessive Toddler Behavior



Our son is 3 years and 3 months old, highly intelligent with exceptional verbal skills. I won’t elaborate, but this is not parental bragging. Everyone we encounter seems to comment on both of these things. He can be very loving and appears perfectly well adapted and normal.

My wife is a full time at home except two mornings a week he goes to a small, well-run mother’s morning out program. He`s always been very strong willed. That background for this: Recently, he exhibits behavior like becoming very distressed over things that seem very insignificant to us.

For example, if someone touches his blanket he might say they smashed it and become very upset. Or if we open a package he may say we did it wrong, and demand it be done differently. Or if mom unhooked his car seat and he says he wanted dad to do so...and with all of these things he becomes extremely whiny, irritable and distressed.

If one of the parents shows affection to his older siblings he raises verbal objections. Such conduct seems to be growing in intensity and recurring more and more often through the day. It is very distressing to us, his parents, and our two older children. We also read him Goldilocks a few weeks ago and he now talks daily about wolves. Of course we stopped reading it and reassure him constantly, but he continues to go on and on about wolves and says he dreams about them.

We have a healthy, happy home and he has always seem well-adjusted but this is very troubling. Should we be concerned about something like ADHD, OCD, etc? We are very worried, and exhausted. Any insight is greatly appreciated.


It isn't always easy being so very intelligent! Your son has clearly moved into the "magic years" when imagination is born and fears multiply for many preschool age children. So part of what you are seeing is the product of absolutely normal cognitive development. I agree with you that your son seems to be taking things to an extreme that is not healthy for him or for your family.

Obsessive-compulsive disorders are common among children and their origins are in feelings of anxiety. Their desire to have things be only the way they want them and the use of rituals represent big mental efforts on their part to control the anxieties that make them feel out of control and vulnerable. Your son's very intelligence that has given him many intellectual benefits now is making him vulnerable in a new way as his ability to imagine but also his inability to separate what is real from what is fantasy are fueling a sense of anxiety.

I think it is also important to consider if anything has changed at home, at his Mommy's Day Out experience, the neighborhood, or extended family that could be contributing to his anxiety. Many times adults tend to think small children are not bothered by changes we understand we cannot control, such as a best friend moving, or a grandparent dying.
Instead, young children are very sensitive to changes in their world and the people important to them. If anything does come to mind, it often helps to address it indirectly through stories and discussion of the story with your child, relating it to his life.

I do also think that it would be very helpful to consult with either a developmental and behavioral pediatrician or a specialist in early childhood mental health. They always work with the child and parents to help uncover what the problem seems to be, to help parents understand the problem, and to develop helpful strategies for managing difficult child behaviors.

They are best located through your child's doctor or at your nearest pediatric medical center. I think almost every parent faces at least one period in their child's life when they need a helping hand in coping with challenging behaviors. Thankfully there are now more pediatric health professionals available to help.

I hope this information offers you a little perspective on what are very hard behaviors to deal with at home. Your son obviously has very loving, concerned parents. He is so fortunate! Hang in there! Things will get better as you actively address the anxiety.



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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University