Q: A couple years ago, we were told by a woman studying to be a therapist that our son suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). At the time, I paid no attention, but he’s now 4½ and still shows some of the same “symptoms.” For example, he will play only with his trucks and blocks, then insist they be put away in a certain spot. Or he will be playing happily — but if I ask him to come for supper, he has a temper tantrum.
A: It’s a documented phenomenon that while studying psychopathology, people often see disorders everywhere they look, in themselves and others. This seems to be what happened in the case of the woman who saw your son, because OCD is usually diagnosed later in childhood or in adolescence. Besides, the behaviour you describe does not fit the bill for OCD.
It is quite normal for young children to prefer routines and use rituals to help them feel safe and in control. Your son’s insistence on putting the toys away in a certain place may reflect a need for his life to be predictable and orderly. At his age, playing with trucks and blocks may also represent a strong gender preference rather than an obsessive trait.
You might try gently encouraging your son to play with other toys by inviting him to play with you. And you can help him embrace a bit of disorder by having some messy fun together, maybe gardening or cooking as a team.
With respect to his temper tantrums, they could be a sign that your son has difficulty with transitions. Try giving him 10- and five-minute warnings; that may help to make the switch from one activity to another feel less jarring.