My question is about behavior of a child who goes in his room and stands for long periods of time just moving his head from side to side. He holds one hand to his cheek while moving. What is this behavior called?

  • 7
    This question seems perfectly appropriate for this site, but you forgot to state the age of your child which is always a very important piece of information. Please edit your question and add it.
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 8:41
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    Philipp is right. It would also be helpful to know if he only does this at times that he knows you're watching him, or at other times too.
    – A E
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 10:18
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    I did change the title though, because asking if it's specifically OCD isn't the same as "What is this behavior called?", which is a good question.
    – user11394
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 16:31
  • Deleted my answer since it doesn't make sense after the change of question title.
    – Pharap
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 10:00

1 Answer 1


This behavior is commonly called repetitive behavior.

Common Behavioural Problems in Children sums it up quite nicely:

All children will at some developmental stage display repetitive behaviours but whether they may be considered as disorders depends on their frequency and persistence and the effect they have on physical, emotional and social functioning. These habit behaviours may arise originally from intentional movements which become repeated and then become incorporated into the child's customary behaviour. Some habits arise in imitation of adult behaviour. Other habits such as hair pulling or head banging develop as a means of providing a form of sensory input and comfort when the child is alone.

Repetitive behavior is not the same as tics, as we read on MindDisorders:

Tic disorders can be differentiated from movement disorders by the following characteristics: they are suppressible; they tend to persist during sleep; they are preceded by sensory symptoms; they have both phonic and motor components; and they wax and wane.

Tics are contrasted against movement disorders in that excerpt, but the qualifications for being a tic also serve to contrast against simple being a repetitive behavior.

Another similar type of behavior is a compulsion. PsychCentral distinguished obsessive behavior from tics, which we can also use to separate repetitive behavior from obsessions:

Distinguishing between certain complex motor tics and certain compulsions (e.g., repetitive touching) can be a problem. By convention, tics are distinguished from “tic-like” compulsions (e.g., compulsive touching or blinking) based on whether the patient attaches a purpose or meaning to the behavior. For example, if a patient feels an urge to repeatedly touch an object, this would be classified as a compulsion only if it was preceded by a need to neutralize an unwanted thought or image; otherwise it would be labeled a complex motor tic. Tics are often identified by “the company that they keep”: if a complex motor act is accompanied by clear-cut tics (e.g., head jerks), it is most likely a tic itself.

These are the primary terms used when referring to behavior similar to that you've mentioned. However, properly applying the correct clinical term to your child will require the expert opinion of a medical professional.

Because you are worried about this behavior, I would advise you to to seek out a doctor's opinion in the immediate future. They can put your mind at rest if this is just quirky behavior, or they may feel this is an issue that needs to be addressed and set you on the path to getting your child the help he may need.

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