5 Yr. Old with New Compulsive Hand Washing Habit

Updated on July 31, 2012
D.R. asks from Lake Peekskill, NY
10 answers

My son has recently developed a compulsive need to wash his hands. The issue is that it is not only his hands that he washes, he is washing his arms all the way up to his elbows. This has slowly progressed within a matter of weeks. I'm concerned because he is an extremely intelligent child and refuses to hear advice about how certain germs are good for him to have. Instead, he walks with his hands away from his body and now refuses to hold my hand because he states that he has germs. He is now sneaking off to go to the bathroom and wash his hands so that we don't stop him.
I'm seeking advice from anyone with any experience with this sort of situation or any suggestions on how to get this to stop before getting any worse.

Thank you.

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answers from Portland on

Here is a web site describing PANDAS. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PANDAS

I suggest that you discuss this with his pediatrician. Even if it's not PANDAS it may be an emotional condition that needs treatment. or not. Get an expert opinion.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Philadelphia on

I agree with Bug. I would take him to the doctor to check for PANDAs and also let the doctor try to ease his fears. These types of compulsions can really take a hold of a person and rule their life very quickly and therefore must be broken. I think the doctor would probably be able to guide you best. Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Has your son had strep in the past year or so? A family friend's daughter developed OCD after having strep. (I believe it's called PANDAS.) This happens in some cases of strep. She was normal, and then she suddenly developed a compulsion for checking labels and not eating food anywhere, but at home. They had to go to a several doctors, before they figured out what was wrong.

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answers from Victoria on

Time for a mud pie party. Really get him into dirt and fling it at eachother, really really messy fun. finger paint, body paint, water fight, food fight or kitchen messy fun. Not sure how close to a farm you are but that might be a great trip for him to get messy and become a farmer for the day. Then show him that they do this for a living and are so healthy and doing well. Even if its just picking crops. Its still out doors and dirty.

Both my husband and I are a bit ocd with touching doors,hand shaking, and people contact. While we will shake hands we both want to wash hands right away, touching public doors is discusting to both of us...almost like grabing dog poop with our bare hand. Its just nasty. But I do remember being a kid and using public pay phones no problem. I think it gets worse for us when I am stressed out. Like most of the time I am not scared of spiders but if I am really worried about things or life is having one of those bummpy times I am terified and my entire skin crawls at the sight. I might even cry!!! Then if life is ok I can squish or gently take it outside. Its S.TX there are tons of bugs here.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

My daughter has anxiety, specifically anxiety about being sick, and during particularly stressful times she will wash her hands compulsively. She will also check labels and expiration dates on everything.
Has your son been sick lately, or is he worried about getting sick for some reason? Maybe he saw something that you're not aware of and for some reason it's got him worried.
You can talk about germs with him until you're blue in the face but this kind of thing is very irrational and therefore explaining the facts usually doesn't help. Just keep a close eye on him, and mention it to your pediatrician. If it seems to be getting worse, take him in. My daughter had an episode (when she was 11-12) that was so bad we had to get her into therapy. Thank God we did, it made a huge difference, and even though she will always be anxious and have these irrational fears she has learned to deal with it so much better!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

For the person below who said it doesn't sound like PANDAS, what makes you think it couldn't be? My nephew developed PANDAS, and my sister wasn't aware he had even had strep until the blood test came back from the doctor (and who knows how much earlier he had strep before the OCD symptoms became bad enough for her to realized there was a huge problem). Plus as far as I know he never developed the tics - I think they are an "and/or" part of the symptoms. He just had the extreme OCD germaphobia. Your son sounds much like my nephew - very intelligent too so your would expect him to know better. So definitely take him to see his pediatrician and discuss this with the doctor. Good luck - my nephew is MUCH better now so there is hope!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I've had a few compulsive habits during my life, and the best thing to do is stop them early.

Experts say that the best way to stop a habit is to REPLACE it with something else. Not sure what that thing could be.

Do whatever you can to stop this now. Hopefully you will get some good suggestions as to how. This might be worth a trip to a therapist or doctor, to nip it in the B..

I was a bit of a compulsive handwasher/germphobe for a few years, but thank god not as bad as your son already seems to be. It's not fun, so get him help.

And yes, a mud party might be a good place to start. Forcing people with OCD to face the fearful thing is a good behavioral approach to fixing the compulsion.



answers from Kansas City on

You may talk to your sons doctor about this - it could be the start of OCD. My son has a "touch" of that depending on his anxiety level, and he can go from one thing to another, but not so much hand washing like you describe. Good luck, a counselor helped us a great deal in learning ways to deal with it.



answers from Houston on

It does not sound like PANDAS to me, This includes major tics and twitches, follows a strep, or other infection. This sounds like good old fashioned OCD to me. The type my son has had for many years - he is 9 now, he has gone through the hand washing one several times now, it is always triggered by something new in the house. This most recent one was triggered by bringing a toy that he had played with outside, back inside again. Even though he didn't tell me that, after we talked about it a few days, we realized that is what it was. We took the trains back outside, lo and behold, hand washing stopped again. My son was washing his hands about 60 times a day, they were red raw, he would sneak off and wash them, use hand sanitizers etc. Try and find the trigger, something has triggered it - remove the trigger.
I tried all the "germs are good for you" talks with my son - it didn't do any good, he simply couldn't help himself, it was an irrational thing. He does it from time to time. The time before that, it was because he had a wart on his hand, and he didn't want it to spread - that was the trigger, got the wart burned off, hand washing stopped.
You may be "lucky" enough to have an OCD child, you learn to live with it, but it's hard - my son is 9, and has many little quirks in his behaviors, he has aspergers and ADD, but we manage.



answers from New York on

Hi D.,
I had this issue w/my 5 year old also. He is now 6 1/2 and the behavior is gone. I asked my pediatrician about it because he was sneaking off to wash his hands all the time! It was driving me nuts and of course the bigger deal I made out of it, the more secretive he became. The doctor asked if he did this behavior everywhere (home, school, friends houses, relatives houses). Turns out he was only doing it at home. If it was true OCD he would do it everywhere because he wouldn't be able to help himself. So I ignored it and even though it took longer than I would've liked, it went away on it's own - just a phase. My advice would be to talk to your pediatrician to help you determine if it is a phase or something more. Good luck.

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