Some children are fussy about their things. They like everything in it’s place. Others care so little about this that their parents struggle with them for two decades to clear a path to their beds! And yet, despite the obvious benefits of being very neat and organized, this trait can sometimes be problematic. The basic question is, when is it too much?
If your child has to have everything “just so,” consider the following tips:
Monkey See, Monkey Do
If you or your spouse also like everything “just so,” it may simply be that your child is copying your style. Sometimes, the child’s copy is more intense than the parent’s original, but if it is in the same department, it may be nothing more than a learned behavior. As long as none of you gets overly distressed when something is out of place, there is nothing to be concerned about. However, if any of you become extremely agitated when something is missing or not in exactly the right position or angle, then things are not quite as they should be. In that case consider the information below.
Arranging things “just so” can help calm inner feelings of tension and mild anxiety. Tension might be barely perceptible, not even conscious. However, straightening things up can bring a pleasant sense of order to an inner chaotic state, even when the person is not even aware of the inner chaos. In other cases, the person IS aware of feeling uptight or bothered and knows full well that cleaning, straightening, organizing or adjusting things helps calm him or her down. Even when it accomplishes this, however, the inner tension has not been properly dealt with. There are much better ways of handling stress, such as using mindfulness meditation to see what exactly the stress is and to clear it out of the system, or some other strategy like EFT (emotional freedom technique) or Focusing (a technique for paying direct attention to the stress in the body to ‘meet and greet’ it and release it).
Consider an Anxiety Disorder
An intense need to have everything “just so” can also be part of the anxiety disorder called “obsessive-compulsive disorder” (OCD). The same psychological dynamics are at play in OCD as described above for normal stress and tension. However, in the case of OCD, the brain itself gets “hooked” or addicted to the behavior that releases the stress (in this case, arranging things just so). Once the brain is hooked, failing to be able to arrange things just so can cause an intense withdrawal reaction, including feelings of panic, rage, overwhelm, extreme irritation, and more. OCD is a physical disorder, a condition of the brain itself. Fortunately, the brain can be rewired to become “un-addicted” – but this may take some professional cognitive-behavioral therapy (and in some rare cases, the help of medication). Parents need to know how to help their compulsive child because ignorance not only fails to help, but it can actually worsen the child’s brain condition. In other words, when parents respond appropriately to their child’s need to arrange things just so, they can help re-wire the child’s brain, but when they respond inappropriately, they can actually help wire it in the WRONG direction! Therefore, if you suspect that your child may be suffering from OCD or OCD-like behavior, arrange for a consultation with a child psychologist or other mental health professional for a proper assessment and, if necessary, treatment plan.