25

We have a 5 years old girl. 2 years ago we have immigrated to a European county. She is going to school here and she learned the new language excitingly fast. We have another 3 months old girl as well.

Recently, she started to show some strange behavior. She keeps asking me questions and telling me things like the followings:

  • Did I say a bad word to you? (When she was not talking. Maybe it's in her mind)
  • Did I slap my sister on her face? (When she didn't even go near her sister)
  • I think I swallowed poop!
  • My friend didn't play with me and I imagine she is dead!

And many other things like these. Is this a normal behavior in this age or not? Should we seek professional help?

  • 3
    I think you should move the Accepted flag to anongoodnurse's answer, as it is much better than mine. – Paul Johnson Sep 19 at 18:07
  • 2
    You may want to update your question with the information about OCD, which is currently buried in a comment below. Also, does your daughter read/watch or talk to adults who might have expressed thoughts like that? Sometimes one book could impact a child for a while. – PatrickT Sep 19 at 22:54
  • 2
    I have a debilitating case of OCD, and these don’t seem like expressions of compulsions or intrusions; they seem like compromised reality testing. An intrusion is thinking about swallowing poop; to believe that one actually did so seems psychotic. To fear becoming violent with a sister is an obsession; to not know if you just slapped someone seems psychotic. The difference is subtle, and clinicians are trained to not misdiagnose OCD as psychosis, but I think these are psychotic symptoms, unless your daughter means something other than what is written here. – gen-ℤ ready to perish Sep 20 at 5:40
  • 2
    Actually she knows the answer but she has the obsession about them. When I react like "I don't know" she says "no I didn't". Also it looks like she is trying to take our attention because she has a new small sister. – S.Yavari Sep 20 at 6:17
  • 3
    Most likely it's normal behaviour from a child who has been the centre of attention most of her life - until a new centre of attention arrived, who takes centre stage. It's her way of attracting the attention she's got used to, and is desperate to re-kindle. Not to worry. – Tim Sep 20 at 8:38
40

If you have OCD, then this might be the intrusive thoughts of OCD, as there is a genetic component to it. However, diagnosing kids this young is difficult, and it's not at all uncommon that kids with a psychiatric diagnosis at one point are found a few years later to have been misdiagnosed. So... time will tell. As someone with OCD, you are in the perfect position to understand what these intrusive thoughts are like.

However, it might be that she's a really sensitive little girl who is merely contemplating such possibilities, thinking she'd like to say a bad word, smack her sister, see her friend squashed by a truck, or is thinking disgusting thoughts, and just doesn't know what to do with these thoughts on taboo subjects. This is about the time when her lexicon of the more adult taboo words is beginning to grow.

It sounds like she might feel guilty about having these thoughts and needs reassurance of her goodness/acceptability. It's great that she's expressing these thoughts instead of trying to cope with them by herself. I would think your first responsibility is to reassure her that strange and even irrational thoughts are normal and do not indicate what her behavior might be or that she is not a good person.

Try to have these conversations in an accepting and matter-of-fact manner, without drama or too much special attention, so that she will not use telling you these things for attention, but do empathize have them. Kids are deeply feeling little beings who feel the complete range of human emotions but don't always know what to do with them. They need to know they are loved for who they are, not just what they do. Help her to differentiate fact from fantasy. Help her to understand that some thoughts are like hiccups: everyone has them, you can't stop yourself from having them, and they can be anything from mildly annoying to painful. But they go away, and don't cause lasting damage. A rich emotional vocabulary might also help your daughter.

If you're familiar with the children's writings of Roald Dahl, you might read some of his books to her aloud and discuss the more outrageous ideas with her.

Observe, listen, discuss. And if it looks like OCD, please do talk with her primary care provider and be her advocate.

E.g. Immediately in the opening of James and the Giant Peach, James' parents go shopping in London and get eaten by an angry rhino who had escaped from the zoo, leaving him orphaned and adopted by the Worst Two Aunts on Earth. After reading for a while, you can ask questions that lead her to a conclusion that thoughts are just thoughts. "Do you think it's likely that someone's parents would both be eaten by an escaped rhinoceros? What do rhinoceroses eat? Why did Roald Dahl tell the story that way? Does even having such an idea make Roald Dahl a bad person?"

In our home, I read to our children every day, from Greek, Egyptian and Norse mythology to Winnie the Pooh, Robert Frost to Shel Silverstein. The first two poems my eldest memorized (at the age of six) were Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and True Story by Shel Silverstein. Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Tings Are, said, "In plain terms, a child is a complicated creature who can drive you crazy. There's a cruelty to childhood, there's an anger. And I did not want to reduce Max to the trite image of the good little boy that you find in too many books."

A Child's Garden of Curses: A Gender, Historical, and Age-Related Evaluation of the Taboo Lexicon, Kristin L. Jay and Timothy B. Jay, The American Journal of Psychology Vol. 126, No. 4 (Winter 2013), pp. 459-475

| improve this answer | |
14

Following from my comment.

Your older daughter has been the apple of your eye, until recently. She has had centre stage, with no rivals. Now she has one - a 3 mth old sibling, who, understandably (for us) is now the 'star'. She doesn't appreciate the situation, but does inderstand the things which get adults' attention.

She's using those to gain back at least some of the attention she's lost. No-one can blame her for this - it's a natural reaction - particularly for a first-born.

Go with the flow, give her more attention than she's been given for the last few months, get her involved with sibling, and it'll all disappear, gradually.

OCD? Obviously Craving Devotion seems more likely...

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    Thanks Tim. I have tested this idea today. When she told me something similar I have started to follow the story that she told me by asking some questions about it but this made her angry and she told me "This thing didn't happen. Just act like before and tell me this is just in your mind" :)) so now I'm pretty sure that she is trying to take more attention. – S.Yavari Sep 20 at 18:51
  • 1
    "Obviously Craving Devotion seems more likely..." I love it! +1 – anongoodnurse Sep 20 at 21:03
  • 2
    This was a tactic used by some friends of mine. A group of us visited them at home. They had a young son and a new baby. They introduced the son to us first by name (let's say Simon) and then said, "And this is Simon's baby sister". They implictly put the sister second in his presence. They consistently made a point of making Simon very important whenever they talked about the baby and complimented him on what a good brother he was. Of course the baby was being cuddled affectionately the whole time (by the mother) and naturally had no idea of the parents' stratagem. – chasly - supports Monica Sep 20 at 22:16
  • 3
    Reading this suddenly struck a chord. Maybe she isn't wanting attention but reassurance now the baby is here. "If I do or think bad things, will you still love me". "If I slapped my sister, would you disown me?" - Of course this is just an idea - I'm throwing it out there for consideration. – chasly - supports Monica Sep 20 at 22:27
7

In an adult I would say this sounds like the obsessive part of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I don't think this is normal for a 5 year old, so you should seek professional help with it.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    Oh. I have OCD. Is it possible to inherit OCD from parents? – S.Yavari Sep 19 at 7:24
  • 5
    @S.Yavari A quick Google suggests that its probably a complicated interaction between genetics and environment, which makes it like most psychological issues. – Paul Johnson Sep 19 at 7:45
  • 1
    Normally I wouldn't upvote this kind of answer; it's a diagnosis. But you may well be right. – anongoodnurse Sep 19 at 14:40
  • @anongoodnurse I've asked about this issue in Meta. – Paul Johnson Sep 19 at 18:08
2

This could be a game

I slept on this and woke up with a thought I don't think has been mentioned.

This is a bright child and quite possibly has a vivid imagination. Such people can become excellent authors of fiction through being able to live in an imaginary world as well as the real one.

“Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.” ― Terry Pratchett

(1) She may be exploring the border between reality and falsehood.

(2) She may have noticed that you reacted strongly to something imaginary that she said and is now playing the game of "get parent to react".

How do you tell the difference?

The child's affect (more accurately affect display) is important.

(1) Does the child appear genuinely upset about these reported behaviours and want comfort from you?

(2) Does she look at you quizzically after saying these things as though she is waiting to see your reaction?

(3) Does she giggle if you fake an over-dramatised shocked reaction?


Note

Children of this age can lie quite convincingly. Rather than telling a direct lie, it is possible that this questioning is a mild form of lie being used as a game or possibly as a device for getting your full attention.

The evidence strongly suggests that kids begin experimenting with lying as a natural consequence of cognitive development. https://www.parentingscience.com/at-what-age-do-children-begin-to-tell-lies.html

| improve this answer | |
1

EDIT

Some of my ideas have been challenged by @anongoodnurse and I welcome this. I want to be clear that my answer is my personal opinion, I am not an expert in psychiatry or psychology and am definitely making no attempt at diagnosis (no-one could on the basis of a Stack Exchange question alone) - I am merely throwing out ideas.


I agree that professional help is a good idea.

I also think that getting a time-scale for these 'happenings' would be useful. If you ask her, "I don't think you did that. When do you think this happened?", you might get a answer that suggests she had a vivid dream during the night.

If she says, "Just a few minutes ago" then the situation may be different. She may be having some kind of hallucination. This does not have to be a sign of mental illness. https://www.julianjaynes.org/pdf/sidhu_hallucinations-in-children.pdf

I remember a friend's 7-year old telling me once that she had seen a pink pelican-like bird sitting on the garden fence (this was in Britain and would certainly have been in the newspaper if anyone had actually seen it). I laughed, thinking that she was making a joke. She was most offended and took great pains to say it had happened. She is now an adult and a medical doctor and perfectly sane.

Some children have imaginary friends that they are convinced exist.

The best course is to check with a professional. They have seen most of these things before and will know which are serious and which are not.

| improve this answer | |
  • -1 for "She may be having some kind of hallucination." She might also get struck by lightening; it happens. – anongoodnurse Sep 19 at 21:22
  • Challenging bad answers is accepted in comments. Asking someone to prove their comments are correct is not. You're wrong on many points. – anongoodnurse Sep 20 at 20:23
  • @anongoodnurse - Thank you for most of your comments. As you suggest, I have removed the ones that ask you for justification. I have reviewed my answer and decided that I still stand by it. I note that I mentioned up front and at the end that I thought speaking to a professional would be a good idea. I have added the fact that my opinions are personal and I have no formal qualifications in the field. – chasly - supports Monica Sep 21 at 9:27
  • 2
    @anongoodnurse - 'she might also get struck by lightening' - a lot of us could do with losing a little weight..! – Tim Sep 27 at 8:32
  • 1
    @chasly-reinstateMonica - Ah, thank you. Haha. – anongoodnurse Sep 27 at 14:32
0

Edit: I just re-read the question and realized the move was 2 years ago, so I think the other answers are better.

Other answers focus on the new sister and possible OCD, but I think moving to a new country and learning a new language is also a great source of stress.

I moved to Germany and entered a German public school without previous German language experience at the age of 7. I learned the language quickly (within 3-4 months), but also had a very stressful experience. I reverted to sleeping in my parents' bed, had nightmares, and told my parents that I heard voices shouting bad things at me.

As my language skills improved and I made new friends, these problems disappeared. One thing that helped me was finding some friends who were also immigrants who spoke my first language. They helped bridge the gap until I spoke German well enough to make friends at school.

If you are concerned, you should certainly consult a professional, but it may simply be all these changes at once are challenging. Continue to support your daughter, help her find strategies for making friends, and watch her to see if the situation improves.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.