20 Month Old Overly Obsessed with letters...OCD?

Updated on July 04, 2010
A.A. asks from Decatur, GA
12 answers

Hi, Mamas! Now, I am not the kind of mother who pressures my child to learn things before it is appropriate. Somehow, without me teaching him, my toddler has picked up the alphabet and can name all of the letters. This is great and shows that he is a bright boy, however, that is all he wants to do. He is quite obsessed, and it's driving me crazy! Everywhere we go he looks for letters. He used to love to color and scribble, and all he wants to do now is make adults around him write letters for him when he is given paper and crayons. He has abandoned all of his toys that don't have any letters on them. When he wakes up in the morning, the first thing out of his mouth is "Letters!" Do I have an OCD kid on my hands? Is this normal?

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So What Happened?

Ok, so one and a half months later, he is still obsessed with letters. We wanted to nurture his interest in letters so we bought puzzles and picture/alphabet cards for him. He has taught himself the lowercase letters and can now read a handful of words, all with very little help from me. He just played with the puzzles mostly and learned on his own. It still drives me crazy but I guess I can't complain because he has a pretty big vocabulary and is developing in other areas just fine. I've been working on teaching him "all done" and "clean up" so that he will stop the alphabet activities when I ask him to. So far, so good! Otherwise, he'll play with his alphabet puzzles/cards for hours and hours. We also bought other interesting toys so that he'll play with them as well. I've just come to accept that his bright little boy is just really passionate about his interests! :)

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answers from San Diego on

I personal think that it could just be a new stage that he is going through. My son was like this with puzzles from the time he was 18m to a little over 2. He had lots of toys but all he ever wanted to do was put puzzles together. He was very good at it too. He could do 24 piece puzzle by himself at 20 months.

Then one day he started playing with cars and plastic animals...he will maybe put a few puzzles together once a week now.

They go through phases...he also likes to tell you all the shapes and colors of all the signs as you drive down the road. He got this idea from blues clues.

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answers from Houston on

My son who is now 7 is/was the same - he gets obsessed with things, and at that age was obsessed with signs, road signs, car signs, shop signs, and the letters which make up the signs.
he could read simple 3 and 4 letter words by 2.5, and reads novels now - it is a great thing to be obsessed with - he has learned so much from the books he has read and was way ahead of the game in first grade.

yes it sounds like your son has the same traits as mine - he is OCD about a lot of things now, like recording DVD's, he can't watch anything on tv without recording it, he was obsessed with thomas the train for 5 whole years - but we don't label him OCD, we do kind of joke about it - if we took him to a psych, he would be probably labelled aspergers, ADHD ODD, OCD and all the rest but that is a label you live with for life, so we deal with it and joke about it.

your son sounds great - enjoy the ride of an obsessive child!

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answers from Augusta on

I personally think all kids are OCD; they go from one obsession to the next. He'll probably discover cars next and he'll start his collection of 6 BILLION matchbox cars that all boys are somehow required to have. Then it will be on to books, and he'll haunt your every step crying, "Read to me, Mommy!" (or in your case, "Let me read to you!")

Then they become teenagers....

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answers from Atlanta on

That's wonderful! Toddlers almost always act in ways that in an adult would be considered OCD. Our current culture is way too quick to label and even pathologize normal behavior. (In this case, a *better* than normal behavior.)

Moreover, if your child is receptive to learning letters at this stage, you're not pushing him, you're following the child's lead. The kid's hungry - gotta feed him! Talk to him, sing to him, play with him, READ with him, make his world rich with print and opportunities to learn as fast as he wants.
No one is surprised when a toddler can name 50 different animals and the sounds they make, or the names and "superpowers" of a myriad of cartoon superheroes. So being able to recognize letters and the related sounds isn't really such a stretch. Take advantage of this time while he's still interested. But ALWAYS make it FUN! The more literacy skills your child can pick up at this stage, when he is interested (even obsessed) and enjoying the activities, the easier reading will be. Very young children CAN learn a lot of reading skills, when the environment supports (but doesn't push) it.

As long as the child is enjoying the interaction with you, and he's having fun, it's fine to teach quantum mechanics (although I admit that would require some very clever parenting.)

If you have some of those foam bath letters that stick to the side of the tub, make a game of collecting all of them before the bath, sound out real or nonsense words during bath time. My kids love to string together longer and longer "words" and then I have to try and sound out "giwplo" or "hdpsu" - the crazier the word, and the more difficulty I have trying to sound it out, the more they laugh.

PLAY with letters, incorporate them into all kinds of games, every day. And introduce lowercase letters now - most of written language is lowercase, but most early introductions for children are all capitals. What's UP with that?

Sit your child on your lap and and read, making sure he can see the words, and use your finger to follow the words. Poetry is great at this age, because they start getting used to hearing rhymes, and anticipating words (especially if you pause for just a second before the rhyming word, the brain automatically starts thinking of what will come next.) Picture books will get him interested in the beauty of books. You might want to start finding some books with very simple words in large print, although generally these aren't as interesting and doing too much of those could make him lose interest. ("Yo! Yes?" is *wonderful*, though, as is the series "Brand New Readers" - my kids are quickly bored by the "Bob" books.)
When you come across a page with a picture of something and the word for it, make a point to point to the object and the word a couple of times ("Here is the honey, and here is the *word* honey") - later you can ask your child to point to them.) Make reading together an important part of every day. While it's a wonderful way to ease your child off to sleep, it's also good to do some when they are awake and alert.

Make it enjoyable and spontaneous - be silly and creative. (Unless you can make it fun and intersesting, I wouldn't particularly recommend flash cards, for instance, although every child is different.) Find ways to assemble words from letters, play with words, point out signs when driving, or when shopping. My toddler had a big breakthrough as we drove through a park - we pointed out the sign "STOP" and then we'd have to stop. Then we pointed out the sign "BUMP" and then we'd go over the bump. We made a game of that each time we visited the park, and then one day, he did the sounding-out strategy for both signs. He was SO excited when he figured that out and wanted to go home and sound out words for the next half hour!

Make labels for all kinds of things, using sticky notes, or even better, a real label-maker. (Sooner or later, you'll need one for labaling things for daycare, school, and camp, so just go to the office supply now.)
Make a game of putting labels on all kinds of things around the house - door, table, shower, spoon, Mom, Dad, cat. (The sticky note stayed on our cat for about 5 seconds, but the giggles made it memorable.)

Show him his own name, and make a label. Buy or make a personalized cup or water bottle with his name on it. Play rhyming games, spoken and written, sing songs, etc. So many children can memorize a song without even trying, so capitalize on this in creative and fun ways, like playing Old MacDonald and using labeled pictures as cues, and then once he has it down, try it with words for the cues "cow" and "moo", "duck" and "quack".
Then try the mixed-up mommy, who gets all the sounds mixed up and watch him laugh as he corrects you.

My toddler *loved* to play what we called the "big words game" where we said a word and he repeated it, and the words got harder and harder. (He had really great diction, and he LOVED this game). The catch was if we said "Constantinople" he was supposed to reply "Istanbul!" - it was a little like a verbal form of "Simon Says".

Make it fun. Be creative. Be consistent. And be patient. Follow the child's lead. If you accidentally push a little too hard, your kid probably WILL let you know it. Many children *do* learn to read at a very early age, (my husband was able to recognize many words before his second birthday) and it isn't from parents foisting it one them, but supporting the child's own interest.

Oh, and don't try to incorporate writing this young because the motor skills aren't there. Older children learning to read often learn writing at the same time, and they seem to reinforce each other at that age. But when VERY young children learn to read, it's too much to expect writing as well, and it would probably frustrate.


(The Hoagies website is filled with stories of children that were very early readers. Very inspiring!)


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answers from Kansas City on

This is very normal and I think most young kids are eager to learn new things and get extremely excited when they do realize they have learned something new. They also tend to like to play with that one new thing for quite a while.

Melissa's right, he will be labeled something if you take him to a psych and then he will be that label for the rest of his life, even though he his completely normal. I didn't fnd her comment insensitive as someone else suggested.

Pretty soon, your son will move on with something else, to be obssesed over(probably numbers!) and this will start all over again!! :)



answers from Tulsa on

buy him some books where he gets to trace his own letters so he can learn to write his own letters :) you didnt say his age but he will have to learn his letters in kindergarten. so why not give him a head start. you aren't pressuring him and he is doing it voluntarily and it will ease some of that nagging "write letters for me" I say its normal he has found something he can do and wants to feel big. ps sounds like he might be able to read easy books.
if your not reading to him start. my oldest read some words at 3.


answers from Atlanta on

Firstly, I wanted to let you know I do understand how frustrating it is to have a child that seems obsessive on something. Days become long and tiresome.
I find Melissa's comment on joking and 'just' living with it very insensitive.
I have a son with Aspergers and it is people like her who make it difficult for children like mine. Living with a label is not a bad thing. It allows other people to become educated on what many live with. Anyone on the ASD spectrum is a valuable member of our community and it is how we support them to what they will become. Yes,I understand her child is probably on the spectrum and yes it is a choice to diagnose or not.
A.A. I would observe and follow your instincts. If you think this is out the the area of 'normal' then check with your GP/Peaditrician. Getting understanding and help at a young age can prevent many years of misunderstanding and frustration. My son is now 10 and we still have issues to deal with but by getting teachers and friends on board is helpful in time to come. Even my family has taken years to understand as they are not living with him on a daily basis to see the OCD behaviour for so many things.
Good luck with you journey and the daily grind of 'Letters'



answers from La Crosse on

My 27 month old started out the same way. He'll find other things to get obsessed with. My son goes through phases. First it was letters. Then, it was numbers. Then, shapes. Right now, he's obsesses with octogons. He constantly wants us to draw them for him. When he's drawing he'll only draw circles. He goes back and forth all the time. He just started liking us reading him books. So, he has 3 or 4 books that we have to read to him over and over throughout the day. That's how kids are. There's nothing with your son. He's just smart! :)



answers from Atlanta on

Both my kids learned their letters and what they sounded like before they were 2 (from Leap Frog videos). People were always so surprised and gave them so much excitement and feedback that they both loved to show it off. That might be why your son is doing it. If he gets lots of praise...it could just be exciting for him?



answers from Macon on

By the age of 3 my son learned on his own to write the alphabet. Probably your son is gifted. Throughout school on achievement tests my son always scored 3 years above his grade. Always encourage your son.



answers from New York on

Well I am not experienced with OCD, although I feel like he's a little too young to have that. However, I do have a bright little boy that loves to learn things. My son has also been obsessed with letters. Shapes, colors, sounds, elephants, dinosaurs, Elmo, etc..... About every few weeks or so, its a new obsession and everything has to have something to do with that obsession. Best I can tell you is just to entertain him and soon it will pass onto another. Good luck and hang in there.



answers from Milwaukee on

I would just go with this is normal for him. In a few weeks it could be trains, or birds or ???. It will pass just like everything else. If it bothers you, mention it at his next check-up. Relax, mom. :)

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