Most research into hoarding focuses on adults. As far as untidy teens are concerned their ‘collections’ are signs of rebellious minds. And as for kids, well they are too young for that. But are they really not old enough? What follows may surprise you.
A child does not normally have the run of the house, and therefore the stuff they keep soon fills their room. Signs to watch for are a bed taken over by temporary storage, nowhere to do homework, and clothes cupboards jammed with other things.
Children Have Attachments for Possessions Too
Caroline Miller writing in ChildMind.Org says children develop deep attachments for some possessions. If Mum cleans the room and throws their things in the garbage, then some will weep because they are hurting inside.
However, other children don’t object because they are just untidy little people. They don’t mind at all if Mum puts some order back, it’s what grownups do. So how do we tell the difference between the two? The difference is the way they behave when someone removes their things.
The hoarder may become anxious and distressed. However, their reaction can also be extreme and involve tantrums, crying, and yelling according to Caroline Miller. They may even kick and hit in panic, and smash things.
Insights into the Mind of a Hoarding Child
A hoarding child collects things in the street like acorns, coins, you name it. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute describes them as ‘here for now’. The child keeps them in piles because they think they have a future use, but they don’t know what this is yet.
They don’t put them in a drawer, Jerry Bubrick says because this might affect the objects’ feelings. “If something is locked up in a drawer,” he explains, “it might get lonely and it might miss me or it might miss the other possessions.”
Some possessions gather particular affection because of an associated moment. A stone picked up during a happy day in a park is more than a memento. It represents the memory in the hoarding child’s mind. If a parent throws it away, they are throwing away the memory too.
These insights cast light on a developing child’s memories and emotions. This transparency makes a valuable contribution to understanding hoarding adults, where fact may be obscured by a lifetime of overlapping memories. We need to be gentle with hoarding children because their spirits bruise easily.
Differences Between Child Collectors and Hoarders
All children collect things from when they are very young. Hoarders leave them in a disorganized state, whereas collectors organize them tidily and have pride in them. Hoarders are uncomfortable about people seeing and touching their things, whereas collectors like to show them off, and explain them.
Hoarding can develop from age six or seven onward, often in association with obsessive-compulsive or another anxiety disorder. Some of their parents are also hoarders. “Sometimes,” Jerry Bubrick says “we have to treat parents to help kids.”