Obsessed with Routine: Is it OCD, or just kids being kids?

My toddler is obsessed with routines.

We used to say, “Goodbye,” with a hug and kiss when I dropped him off at daycare. Then one day I gave him what we call a “mugga-mugga,” the nose-to-nose “kiss” of Eskimos.

By the next morning, it HAD to be part of the routine.

Then Daddy introduced the “sniffy-sniffy,” in which you wrinkle your nose and loudly sniff face-to-face. I am not nuts about this addition, because there are times I end up with snot on my face from my son’s over-zealous sniffer. But it seems we’re locked into this list, and skipping a step results in a meltdown.

I was dumb enough to add yet another step one morning when he was acting crabby. I said I was going to “turn that frown upside down” and dipped him backward.

Now every morning as I unbuckle his  seat belt, he announces, “I want a hug, a kiss, a mugga-mugga, a sniffy-sniffy AND a frown-upside-down!”

He has to have them all, and they have to be in that order, or the morning just doesn’t get off on the right foot.

OK, let’s say it out loud: it sounds like he has OCD, or obsessive compulsive disorder.

And you haven’t even heard the half of it yet.

  • On the drive to daycare, we must talk about that night’s agenda: go home, see daddy, eat supper.
  • When we cook, he has to put his apron on first, THEN his chef’s hat. Put them on in the reverse order, and there are sure to be tears.
  • At bedtime, we must follow this strict schedule: watch Pajanimals, brush and floss, read a story. Skip one, or change the order, and there will be trouble.

So does my son have a problem? Do you follow quirky routines like this with your child, and should you be worried, too?

Probably not. As it turns out, this loyalty to routines is perfectly healthy and normal for young children, according to www.ocdeducationstation.org:

It’s important to note that most, if not all, children exhibit developmentally normal repetitive behaviors or routines. Superstitions, ritualistic games, and repetitive play are characteristic of normal child development. In fact, many childhood behaviors enhance socialization and advance development. Click here to read the rest of their article entitled, “What OCD isn’t.”

The website says there’s a huge misunderstanding about what OCD really is. A child who genuinely suffers from OCD will commit hours to his or her obsession, to the point that it interferes with the way the child functions on a day-to-day basis.

A routine, on the other hand, is like a safety blanket for young children. It’s how they make the world — which is so mysterious to them — a little easier to predict.

I’ve found that embracing the need for routine gets rid of a lot of “power struggles.” As much as this write-up makes it sound like my son rules the house, his loyalty to routine actually means it’s easy to build consistent, healthy habits. For example, we’ve made brushing his teeth part of the routine, so there’s never a fight about it.

And because my son has a bedtime routine, he never gives us a hard time about going to sleep. As long as he gets that episode of Pajanimals and that story book, all is right in the world, and he goes to bed with a smile on his little face.

Does your little one have a nonnegotiable routine? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

Print Friendly
Share this through Facebook, Twitter or Email:
Facebook Twitter Email


  1. Teneel Wilder says:

    Wow! This article made me feel a lot better. My son has to have a routine. I think it benefits both of us. Especially our nightly routine. He and I know that I pick him up a little after 3:00 every day and he is waiting at the door of his daycare, shoes and coat on, looking out the screen/glass door, watching for my car. Snack and the Disney channel happens as soon as we get home, dinner by 4:30 with his clear sip cup only so he can see what he’s drinking and certain plates with certain foods, all chopped up in seperate piles on the plate (which I didn’t realize I even did for him until my boyfriend screwed it up the other day and meltdown city), play time and some dancing (to tire him out and he loves it) between 6-7:00, bath at 7:00, read a book and pyjamas at 7:30, he helps me pick out his clothes for the next day or that ‘s a major meltdown in the morning (and he’s only 2!!) bedtime at 8:00. If I try to skip any of these things it totally throws him off. He’s cranky, won’t go to sleep, throws himself around and starts being snotty to me. So I guess…this is all normal(?) 😉

  2. Cortney says:

    My 2.5 year old is routine heavy too. I was worried about OCD too, but it seems its normal. And you’re right, it actually makes her super easy to deal with and she very rarely cries or has a meltdown. I make it a point to make subtle changes to her preferred routines every so often so she has to be a little flexible. Like she wants a certain number of hugs and kisses from the same spot next to her crib but once in a while I make sure to start them from the other side then finish on the preferred side. If she protests the changes I just say ” I thought it would be fun to try it this way. Making a game out of a change seems to help.

    • Tiffany says:

      That’s great advice, making minor changes fun to show the little ones it’s not the end of the world to break routine once in a while. Thanks, Cortney!