When Too Much Order Becomes a Problem

April 18, 2013

Dr. Leticia Ugarte, pediatric psychiatrist

ST. LOUIS - When it comes to spring cleaning, memories of my childhood with my mother going around the house bring me back to dust and nagging about how my room should look, how I kept dirty dishes under my bed… oh memories. Now that I’ have kids of my own, my worries are a bit different but I have noticed that I tend to obsess about the clutter at home and find myself nagging in a similar way.

I guess being a child psychiatrist gives me a different perspective and I certainly know that it’s not good for me to “obsess” too much about how things are placed and where. But then, there I go again.

Is this obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)? When it comes to what is considered normal, there’s a really big range of what could be considered appropriate. It is certainly a good thing to encourage kids to participate actively in chores as it gives them a sense of structure, is an important part of learning self discipline, gives them a sense of responsibility and also helps educate them about healthy community living.

The other thing we parents have to remember is every child is a little different when it comes to keeping things in order. While keeping plates with food under your bed, as I did, is probably not the way to go (although I always excuse myself as having been a typical teenager), the complete opposite – worrying about where things go to the point you can’t go on with your day – is probably not the best either.

As a parent, keep an eye on how much time is spent cleaning, keeping things in place or watching out for germs. Too much time in the bathroom washing hands, not touching, or touching things too much, are all things that may be signs of issues a little bit more complicated than just an “orderly clean child” such as OCD.

The main thing to look for is how happy your child seems to be and if these worries or habits consume too much of their daily activities and attention. If so, talking with a physician might be a good idea.

Still, I can’t help but think about how different my children are about cleanliness. I wonder if I will be yelling at them some day about food under their beds. Maybe.

Dr. Leticia Ugarte is a Mercy Clinic pediatric psychiatrist with Mercy Children’s Hospital. For more information, please visit www.mercychildrens.net.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch 

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