Hoarding Disorder in Children

Does your child have a room full of useless objects? Do they suffer at the idea of getting rid of them? Then, they may have hoarding disorder.
Hoarding Disorder in Children

Last update: 22 January, 2021

Many children collect objects with no real value, such as stones or stickers. And most of their rooms are messier than their parents would like. However, in those who suffer from hoarding disorder (also known as compulsive hoarding), these characteristics are exacerbated and prevent them from functioning normally in their daily lives.

If the child suffers from this condition, there’ll probably be constant family conflicts and an unpleasant home environment for everyone. While the parents are desperate for the child to get rid of the huge amount of objects they’ve accumulated, the very idea of thinking of it becomes a real nightmare for the child.

So, what is happening in the mind of a child who has this disorder? How can we address it?

Hoarding Disorder in Children

What is hoarding disorder in children?

Hoarding disorder is when a person finds it impossible to get rid of objects and possessions. The child who suffers from it tends to acquire and to keep all sorts of different items which don’t have any real value, and feels unable to get rid of them.

This isn’t a problem with collecting items, as the accumulated objects aren’t related to each other and don’t follow any real pattern. They can accumulate anything from toys to paper, or from rocks to toilet paper tubes.

Likewise, there can be so many accumulated objects that it becomes almost impossible to move around or work in the child’s room. Much of the time, the worry regarding their possessions monopolizes the child’s mental energy, and the idea of having to discard some of them creates enormous anxiety.

There is a very intense emotional connection to the items, despite the fact that they don’t have any real or symbolic value.

Why does it happen?

The causes that produce hoarding disorder are still not clear. However, there’s some evidence that seems to indicate that in 50% of the cases there are genetic factors involved. In addition, in most children, there are other associated mental illnesses involved, such as anxiety or mood disorders.

Likewise, this condition seems to be more frequent in children who suffer from ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder). Traumatic or stressful events may also trigger the onset of symptoms or worsen their severity.

On the other hand, it’s important to emphasize that this is a chronic and progressive disorder. Cases during childhood and adolescence are rare, but if they do appear, they’re likely to progress and increase in severity over the years. Therefore, it’s important to intervene as soon as possible.

Treatment of hoarding disorder in children

Treatment of this disorder can be complicated because the sufferer isn’t aware they have a problem. Usually, a parent will seek help for other, often anxiety-related, disorders that appear, and that’s when the hoarding disorder is detected.

In addition to this, when the adults attempt to remove the child’s possessions, then he or she will react with anger, frustration, and rage. This is a clear symptom of this disorder.

Hoarding Disorder in Children

The treatment will depend, to a great extent, on the age of the child. Children under 9 years of age don’t yet possess the cognitive abilities necessary to apply certain psychotherapeutic techniques.

In this case, the role of the parents will be fundamental. Firstly, to prevent the child from acquiring and collecting new possessions and, secondly, to encourage him or her to progressively get rid of the objects they already have.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

When the child is over 10 years old, it’s possible (and recommended) to apply cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. The aim of this is for the child to understand their feelings and the origin of the disorder, and to then modify their thoughts and behaviors.

It’ll be important to work on the emotional issues and fears that may lead the child to hoard things in order to feel secure. And, in the same way, it’ll be necessary to teach and reinforce decision making and self-confidence.

As the treatment progresses, the child will be able to start to discard objects without any adverse effects.

Likewise, if there’s any other mental disorder, then it’s essential to address it specifically, as this may be exacerbating the hoarding symptoms.

In any case, in spite of the difficulty that the treatment may entail, it’s important to carry it out. If not, we’ll be endangering the child’s well-being and opening them up to severe problems in adulthood.

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