What are typical ritualistic behaviors?
People in general often like routines—they are safe, predictable, and comforting all at the same time. We often have established morning routines, in-class routines, after-school routines, homework routines, and bedtime routines. When we need to deviate from one of our routines, there may be either some stress or resistance involved, or excitement to break a routine, such as when we can stay up later than usual to do something fun.
While routines involve actions that need to be done, like brushing the teeth and making the bed, rituals are usually internally motivated, have a sense of purpose, and are perceived as having a positive effect on us. For some of us, rituals are connected with fears and anxieties and help us accept and counterbalance stressful situations.
Some repetitive behaviors, routines, and rituals are expected. For example, people that exercise may have a specific way of warming up before. Some athletes are superstitious and engage in rituals before competing. All of these behaviors are typical, as long as they remain related to the specific activity at hand and do not intrude or interfere with other life aspects.
When should I pay special attention to ritualistic behaviors or repetitive movements?
If we are engaging in ritualistic behaviors or repetitive movements compulsively or obsessively to alleviate some discomfort, and there are difficulties in interrupting them, or if the behaviors are impacting other aspects of our lives or the lives of people around us, this may be cause for concern.
Examples of concerning repetitive behaviors include:
- Clearing their throat.
- Body twitches.
- Shoulder shrugging.
- Facial grimacing.
- Making sounds.
Examples of concerning rituals include:
- Repeated or extensive washing or cleaning.
- Repeated checking behaviors (e.g., checking for mistakes over and over again).
- Repeated specific actions (e.g., going in and out of a doorway).
- Repeated object counting, or silently repeating words.
- Arranging or lining up objects.
- Strong refusal to throw things away.
- Unwillingness to “step on cracks”.
- Repeatedly insisting another person do or say something.
- Repeated praying.
What can I do if I struggle with ritualistic behaviors or repetitive movements?
It can be hard and frustrating to deal with ritualistic behaviors or repetitive movements when it seems like we can't stop them. If you understand that you struggle with them, there are a few things you may try:
- Ask a trusted adult for help. Trusted adults are usually our caregivers, other family members, or someone else who is responsible for taking care of us. Let your trusted adults know about your difficulties. They can be helpful for assisting you and helping you get any additional help you may need.
- Try to understand what is happening to you. Most of the time, ritualistic behaviors or repetitive movements follow a cycle or pattern. Try to pay attention to what you are feeling and thinking before you engage in the behavior, as well as how you feel afterwards.
- Try to think of different ways to deal with what is motivating your ritualistic behaviors or repetitive movements. If we pay close attention, we may notice that our ritualistic behaviors or repetitive movements are not very logical. So, if there is something bothering us, we can think of or talk to people about different ways of handling the situation.
- Whenever possible, attempt not to engage in the rituals and repetitive movements. It may be really hard for you not to engage in your rituals. However, it is worth trying to sit with the discomfort and not engage in what you feel the urge to engage in. If you feel anxious about it, take deep breaths and talk to someone.
If you have already tried some or most of these suggestions and the problems you are facing persist, it may be time to ask a trusted adult to seek out professional support.
Ritualistic behaviors and repetitive movements that are too frequent, intense, present in many different contexts, discrepant from those experienced by others the same age, and that negatively interfere with our lives, may indicate the possibility of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or Tics.
What kind of professional support can be sought out?
It is not unusual for us to feel embarrassed, inadequate, or guilty if we are struggling with ritualistic behaviors and repetitive movements. But, if you think you are facing this difficulty, support and guidance are available now.
Pediatricians or family physicians can help to address initial concerns and refer to specialized professionals. Also, whenever possible, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful.
The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).
Where to find more information
Specific, detailed, and clinical information on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Tics can be found at [clinical short guide at the program website].
If you want to know more about the closest available services for educational and public health systems for children and adolescent assistance across the country, go to our Services Mapping webpage here.
You can also find more information by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below or by clicking here.