Understanding Childhood Hoarding Tendencies & Spotting Early Warning Signs


Understanding Childhood Hoarding Tendencies & Spotting Early Warning Signs

Are you concerned about your child’s desire for gathering items or the constant state of disarray in their room? While some degree of messiness and attachment to objects is typical in children, there may be cause for concern if certain patterns persist. If you’re worried about potential hoarding tendencies, this post is for you. 

Spotting the Telltale Signs of Hoarding

Children who may be developing hoarding tendencies often display certain characteristic behaviors:

Extreme Reluctance to Discard Items: Even those that seem to have no value.

Intense Distress at the Thought of Parting with Possessions: They get visibly upset when asked to give up their belongings.

Overcrowded Living Spaces: They accumulate so many items that it clutters their personal space.

Difficulty Organizing and Making Decisions: They struggle to categorize their items or decide what to do with them.

Anxiety When Others Handle Their Belongings: They become anxious or upset when others touch their stuff.

When Does Hoarding Develop?

Hoarding tendencies can manifest at any age, but they often begin in childhood or adolescence. Research suggests that hoarding behaviors may start as early as 3-5 years old, with more severe symptoms typically appearing around the age of 13-15. It’s important to remember that early-onset hoarding doesn’t necessarily mean your child will struggle with this disorder into adulthood. However, if left unaddressed, these tendencies can become more ingrained and difficult to manage over time. Recognizing and addressing these behaviors early on can significantly improve outcomes and help your child develop healthier habits around possessions.

Collecting vs Hoarding: Understanding the Difference

Children often form attachments to objects for a multitude of reasons. Whether it’s sentimentality—with objects serving as reminders of particular people or events—or seeking comfort and security in these items, it’s quite normal. Some children might even attribute potential usefulness or intrinsic value to these objects.

child collecting cars

It’s crucial to differentiate between collecting and hoarding, two behaviors that, while seemingly similar, are fundamentally different. Both involve the acquisition and preservation of items, but there’s a stark contrast in the nature of these activities.

Collecting is an organized endeavor with a specific focus, such as stickers, action figures, toys, rocks, minerals or other collectibles. Collectors usually take pride in their collections, curating them carefully and often displaying them for others to see. It’s a structured, focused hobby that doesn’t interfere with the individual’s living space or daily life.

Contrarily, hoarding is characterized by the accumulation of random items without any specific theme or purpose. There’s no organization involved, and the amassed items often lead to cluttered, disorganized spaces. Unlike collectors, individuals who hoard typically don’t display their possessions and may feel embarrassed or anxious about others seeing the state of their living spaces. Understanding this difference is crucial in identifying potential hoarding tendencies.

When to Seek Professional Help

There comes a point where a child’s attachment to objects can escalate from innocent collecting to a potential hoarding condition. If you notice that this attachment has become excessive, reaching a stage where it starts to disrupt your child’s daily life and routine, it’s a significant red flag that should not be ignored.

If your child’s living spaces are persistently cluttered to the point that they can’t be used as intended, or if the volume of collected items is causing distress, conflict, or is infringing on the rights of others, it’s time to seek professional help. Early intervention can significantly improve outcomes, helping your child develop healthier habits around possessions and space usage. Remember, there’s no shame in reaching out to mental health professionals for support and guidance—it’s about providing the best care for your child.

Exposure and Response Prevention

As mentioned on our hoarding, compulsive shopping and overwhelming clutter page, there are many types of therapy that can assist with helping someone with a hoarding condition.  One effective method of addressing this issue in children is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy. ERP gradually exposes individuals to situations that cause their anxiety—like discarding items—and helps them create healthier responses.

For example, a therapist might start therapy by asking a child to sort through a small pile of items, deciding which ones to keep and which ones to throw away. Over time, this helps the child tolerate the anxiety associated with discarding items, thereby reducing their hoarding behaviors.

Early Intervention is Key

Remember, early intervention can significantly help in managing hoarding tendencies. By understanding the signs and seeking the right help, you can support your child in leading a healthier, more organized life.

In helping your child navigate through the complexities of hoarding tendencies, professional guidance can prove to be invaluable. At Psych Choices, our therapists are ready to assist and guide your child towards a healthier future. Don’t hesitate to take this crucial step in understanding and managing childhood hoarding tendencies.

Reach out to Psych Choices today to schedule a session with a therapist who can provide the support and strategies your child needs. Together, we can spot early warning signs and chart a path towards resilience and well-being. Your child’s journey towards healing starts here! 

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