Child Worrying About Trash

Updated on November 22, 2011
R.M. asks from Livingston, NJ
13 answers

Hello. My 5 year old has started having anxiety since school started. It started as worrying about animals that he felt bad for in books and movies. He had me draw their picture with a heart by it. Then he started worrying about plants. He wouldn't let me throw away a paper plate because it had flowers on it. It started 3 months ago and is now worse. He has started getting major anxiety about trash before school in the parking lot. He is holding back tears and asking if the trash will "get a good home?". He is acting like it has feelings but he does know the difference between living and non living- we have had several talks about this. He collected trash yesterday at the playground and then threw it away so it wouldn't be outside. He is having me draw the trash with a heart also. I started making calls for an appointment with a therapist. I have no idea if it could be ocd
or if he is just being sensitive and caring. I am very worried and would love any thoughts. He is so sweet and I hate seeing him with such worry. You can see the anxiety in his face and he repeatedly asks me if I will remember to draw the picture and even makes me write it down before I drop him off. The teacher has even had to email me to remind me to help him not worry. No, I never forgot. Thanks for any advice.

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone. This was my first post and I was amazed by all thoughtful responses. Many of the responses made me laugh and gave me comfort. I did take him twice to a therapist and she said it was from generalized anxiety because he was having a hard time being away from me...poor kid. We are working on things and hopefully with some time it will be easier for him.

Featured Answers



answers from Minneapolis on

Yes, talk with a therapist. Being sensitive and caring is good, but these behaviors are interfering with his normal activities, which is always a sign that it is time to get help.

3 moms found this helpful

More Answers



answers from Dallas on

You're already getting him in to a therapist, which is the only thing I would advise. It's good you're not dismissing his worries, however make sure you don't play into them either. Don't be afraid to change therapists if the first one doesn't work out. He's lucky to have such a loving, concerned mom :)

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

I think he's just trying to figure things out. I'd get some red wiggler worms and teach him about the cycle of life and how the worms will eat the rotting food mixed with paper and dry leaves etc. There's tons of info out there about composting with earth worms.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Redding on

It sounds like you have a sensitive little boy.
I also was a very sensitive child. I didn't have any OCD or anything wrong with me, but things just touched my heart so much.
I think it is significant that he wants a heart drawn next to things.
To me, it shows his level of compassion.
When I was a child, I would cry if I saw someone eating alone in a restaurant.
If I picked up a stick or a rock, I vividly remember having a hard time putting it down without thinking that the stick or the rock (or whatever) would somehow never be exactly the same after I had held it.
I was a "gifted" child and a bit of a deep thinker. I could not eat anything that came from an animal. I thought very much about the existance of thigs.
At a very early age, I experienced a lot of death and tragedy and I think I was just trying to sort things out.
Your son may well be anxious, but he also may well just be trying to figure out what happens to things.
I'm an adult now. I still have a huge heart for things and I admit, those old feelings well up when I see someone sitting alone to eat.
I'm glad that you are looking for someone for your son to see. A great deal can be learned by a child through play therapy. It can help him to understand what his fears or worries are based on.
It can help him to know it's okay to be sensitive and to channel that in positive directions.
He may care very passionately about the world around him and be a supporter of recycling.

My son is very sensitive as well and when he was little, he felt sorry for animals and things. Especially birds.
He is a normal 16 year old Junior in high school who has a heart for disabled people and the elderly. He always fights for the underdog.
Sensitivity is a good thing, it really is.
If you can help him get over the level with which he worries about things while still encouraging his sensitivity, I honestly think he'll be just fine.

Best wishes to you!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

Aww I know your worried and I do understand why. I hate to think of a lil boy worrying so much but I gotta say, your son sounds like the sweetest boy ever. I feel like drawing a picture of him with a big heart. I bet he gives great hugs too. Sorry, I have no advise other than to talk to a therapist which your already going to do.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

My limited experience is that this is a phase in a really sensitive little boy. It just happens to be one which I imagine is very painful for you to watch. Clealry, you are the parent and know your child and you know whether you need some suppot and might want to follow-up on this... but I know lots of kids who have had period of anxiewty and who have become ritualistic in some way.

My daughter had a lot of anxiety about switching schools for 1st grade. All of a sudden, my sweet, chipper, composed girl was was a puddle about leaving me and getting on the bus. Worse, she started panicing about going to sleep at night and forcing us to stay longer and longer and sing certain songs and say I love you "one more time." That sort fo stuff. I know another little girl who developed anxiety at breakfast where her mom "had to" stir her juice a certain number of times etc.

All of these things were were temporary and I believe the rituals are very reassuring to kids and a way to give them a sense of control and comfort. Kids can need that without it being pathological. I think a realatively normal kid in an acute situation can benefit from a bit of indulgence. However, it is a fine line to walk to not create lifelong habits.

For my daughter's anxiety, I tired to come up with alternatives to her anxiety so as to b eless disruptive to all of us. I think there is a big difference between between finding comfort in something and letting the same thing interfere with life. For instance, I told her I would not let her stay awake and keep making us come back into her room (since this was disruptive to her slepp and our rest time) - but she could pick out one of my things to sleep with. She still sleeps with a sweatshirt of mine over a year later (and she never slept with a blanket or toy until then).

I also try to tell her that worries are for grown-ups. After a while, she tried to find excuses for her anxiety, which was clealry about school and seperation. She starte dot say she was afraid of fires or tornados etc. I told her it is Mom's job to worry and protect and that she needed to let me do MY job. Her job is to sleep and play and go to school, and she needs to focus on HER job.

So, my suggestion is to be honest with him about misplaced concerns, and trying to find reasonable coping mechanisms - chasing the trash truck to draw hearts on your trash bag is off course not reasonable. I am not sure wha twill work for your son, but maybe finding a substitute behavior that is more productive mght help.

Also, make sure you give him some honest answers about trash and recycling and who some products get rused (sort of like getting a good home, actually) and some go back to be part fo the earth to help trees and plants grow. Don't let him focus on the loss of something that is his, help him focus on the positive parts of reality.

Sorry you are dealing with this. We hate to see our kids in pain, and it is scary when the pain seems to be over something so ridiculous to us. But this is how he has tried ot focus his anxiety, so try to deal with ways to cope with the worrying and not over focus on the object of his obsession.

It took a good 4-6 months for my daughter to be back to normal after school started. And she still sleeps with her sweatshirt. She still has a little seperation anxiety associated with school but only in limited or more stressful situations. Good luck.

PS - did you try the school guidance counsellor? If this is really about school, having a safe place to talk at school might be a comfort to him.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

It does seem a little bit obsessive, but I agree with others who say he may be just a really sensitive little guy. My son has not gone through this exact thing, but he did go through a phase where he didn't want to throw anything away. He was always concerned about it going to the dump, being discarded and no longer cared about... i.e Christmas trees, tree branches when they were trimming trees (he thought they were hurting the trees), pumpkins were all things he got very upset about seeing tossed aside... and then trash; empty bottles, containers ect.... It wasn't enough that we recycle. He wanted to repurpose them and create something else useful from them. He caught a teeny tiny baby lizard once and insisted that we put it back where we found it before dusk so it could be with it's family. I never worried too much about it because it did pass and I know that he's a really imaginative creative kid. I loved that he thought so deeply about things.

Now he's 6 and only today I found him laying on the sidewalk with his hands behind his head. I asked him what he was doing and he said " I'm just laying here looking at the sky. It's so beautiful Mom. I do this almost every day at school; lay on my back and look at the sky, so blue, and listen to the birds..." He just notices the beauty in things more than some other people.

I don't think the therapy is a bad idea... you never know about these types of things, but I wouldn't worry too much about it yet. Kids are amazing beings... sometimes it's lovely to see the openness of what they share with us especially in these years when their imaginations are exploding and they don't quite know how to sort it out except to talk to us and ask for our help to make sense of it all.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Maybe try reading "The highly sensitive child," may give you some insight? Hope that helps! Good luck with the therapist!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Aww, your post almost brought me to tears. What a sweet, sensitive little boy. I don't have much advice for you--sounds like you are doing the right thing, following your gut. If you try therapy and are for any reason not comfortable with it, or you feel like it is the wrong path, unnecessary, whatever, you will know. I can tell you that i was like this as a child for a long time. I also was OCD at one point. I never got therapy for any of it and today I am a normal healthy adult. So try not to worry too much about him. I know a little of how you feel though--my son displays some of these tendencies--right now he is obsessed with the idea of us being trapped or caught in a fire--in our house, the grocery store, wherever. Everywhere we go he asks me where the fire alarm is, where the sprinklers are, the exit, etc and when he hears a loud noise, he thinks it is a fire alarm. It breaks my heart because I remember all the anxieties I had as a kid--I carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. Just try to continue to be understanding, reassuring, and be extra careful what you expose him to, ie no tv news, scary movies, violent cartoons. I used to even cry over the trix rabbit not getting the cereal and the coyote always getting into trouble with the roadrunner! Anyway, sorry this is so long and disjointed. Hugs to you--sounds like you are handling it well.



answers from Des Moines on

My theory is, if you're worried, it does no harm to get a healthy child going through a troublesome phase evaluated, but delaying treatment for a child with a problen CAN cause further problems.



answers from Atlanta on

Sounds like he's got too much around him. Five year olds are usually very happy little people. Simplify. No tv, kids get a lot of stress from tv and other media, games, etc. it's just too much for them to handle. And some kids show this more than others. Have you heard of the book Simplicity Parenting. You may want to check it out. He sounds like a very sweet, sensitive boy and it needs to be directed. Put him at ease with lots of warmth. He's not too old to be held and rocked and sung to and sometimes even at this age, it's exactly what is needed. Just keep reassuring him. Sending Blessings for you both.



answers from Kansas City on

wow, my youngest son is similar to the worry thing your son has, but with different things. I would suggest following through with the therapy thing. I waited too long to take my son to therapy, and it just makes for a much tougher life for the boy, and the parents. It is hard for everyone to live with his fears and anxiety. I'd go asap. And yes, it was ocd for my son too.



answers from New York on

I think a therapist is the right thing. He may be exceedingly sensitive or he may have anxiety disorder. A mental health professional is best qualified to make that determination. I also feel that when his sensitivities are unrealistic and over the top, it's appropriate for you to step in and tell him that trash is not a living thing, it is NOT going to a good home and not getting hearts and flowers - it's garbage, bad for the environment and bad for our health. I would not have him picking up strangers' garbage, eeeewww.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions