Feb 15, 2015

My Daughter has an OCD tic

Category: Childhood Disorders

Question: My daughter compulsively says "I love you."  It started when she was about 8 years old and I thought it was just a phase or had to do with the fact that my husband and I had gotten back together after being separated.  But she is 11 now and it has not changed.

Obviously I want her to say I love you sometimes, but I am not exaggerating when I say she can easily say it a dozen times in the course of a couple minutes, especially when we are saying goodbye or goodnight.  One night I counted and from the moment she got into bed until she actually went to sleep she said it 37 times!  She varies it up a little, sometimes saying the words, sometimes squeezing me three times (a signal we've had since she was tiny for secretly saying I love you), sometimes she'll say "Love you, mom" or "'K, love you."

We have tried calmly talking to her, asking her why she feels the need to say it so many times, trying to get her to use a code phrase in place of it, telling her it's sounding more like a reflex than a genuine statement, making sure she knows we love her by saying it ourselves and making sure she gets hugged and listened to, making sure she knows we love each other by showing affection and respecting each other...But it's getting seriously frustrating and harder to be compassionate the longer it continues.  I don't want to give her a complex or make her feel like she can't ever say it.  Help!

Jennifer

Answer: Dear Jennifer, That is a difficult conundrum isn’t it!  I’m not sure if you are going to like my answer very much!

It does sound like your daughter has developed a bit of a compulsive tic.  With all tics it is important to look at what the symptom may represent.  It is a bit of a long shot and obviously I don’t have the full picture but I would urge you to have a talk with your daughter about her more negative feelings about you as well.  It may be that she is using the phrase to hold back her more negative “I hate you” feelings that she doesn’t want to let out.

I know this isn’t a particularly palatable answer but I do urge you to bear in mind that ambivalent feelings in children are really perfectly normal.  All children have times when they feel intense love for their parent and also times when they feel intense anger, frustration and hate, however, transiently.   I’m not sure of the situation but you said that the compulsion started at the time that you and her father reconciled.  It may be that your daughter felt she needed to be extra good at this point in order not to upset a fragile situation and pushed away her difficult feelings.  Just a thought, there could be many other reasons.

In any case I would recommend that you talk with your daughter about her feelings and make it clear that she can have negative as well as positive feelings about you and her father.  Encourage the times when she might legitimately feel angry and give her some outlets for her feelings such as art or conversations with you and your husband.

If that doesn’t work then it might be worth getting a bit of professional help to guide you.  Someone who can talk to you and gain the full background will be in a better position to help you understand the reasons behind her compulsion and how to eliviate it.

Best wishes,

Ryan



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