Son's extreme cleanliness is worrying

Q: My son gets angry if any of us in the family touches his things and he cleans the chair before sitting on it, like he is afraid it is contaminated. Is he suffering a disorder and how can I change his behaviour?

A: Often, two children exhibiting similar behaviour may do so for different reasons. A clinician needs to run a thorough assessment to determine an appropriate intervention plan.

For now, it would be helpful if you could quietly observe your child and note the following: How often does he get angry and over what? What happens when he gets angry? What other cleaning behaviour does he show and how does he explain his actions?

Observe, too, how the behaviour affects his daily functioning such as, say, his homework? Does it get him into trouble in school?

When did you first notice such behaviour in him? The answer may give doctors a better understanding of why your child is behaving in that manner.

Often, as parents get frustrated with such behaviour, they lose patience and try harder to make their child change his ways, leading to more tension.

Frequently, children whom we work with tell us they wish their parents could try to understand them, rather than constantly try to tell them to change.

If possible, talk to your child about your concerns. Let him know you are worried and you want to see if there is anything you can do to help him.

But if his behaviour persists or gets worse, consider making an appointment with your nearest polyclinic, where the doctors may suggest that your child be seen at a specialist clinic.

Mr Gan Chee York, who answered this question, is a clinical psychologist at the Child Guidance Clinic, Institute of Mental Health, which provides services for children and adolescents with emotional and behavioural problems. For more information, go to

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