Does compulsive counting always mean OCD?

Filed under: Big Kids, Health & Safety: Babies

A few night ago as I was tucking Ellie in to bed, she asked me if I ever count my steps. Like, when I am walking, do I keep track in my head of how many steps it takes me to get where I am going? No, I don't do this. But Ellie says she does. In fact, she counts lots of things - red cars, seconds until the light changes and strawberries in her bowl, to name a few.

My first thought when she told me this was that maybe she has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). And then I thought again. When I was a child, I remember counting things the way she says she does. I don't recall having obsessive thoughts that led me to count , I just did it. It didn't bother me or interfere with anything, but I think my counting would definitely fall well within the definition of a compulsion.

According to, OCD is an anxiety disorder in which the brain gets stuck on a particular thought or urge and can't let go. Ellie's counting rituals and her desire to collect things could suggest that she might, in fact, have this disorder.

I don't remember when my own counting behavior began or when it stopped, but I do know it lasted a very short time. I never talked to my parents about it and I can't help but wonder what would have happened if I had. Would I have been treated with therapy or medication for something that quickly went away on its own? That question gives me pause when it comes to Ellie. Couldn't she be going through a similar phase or should I be worried that something bigger is going on?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.