My Anxiety Plan (MAP) for Hoarding Disorder
The following strategies are designed for you the parent to use with your child as s/he begins to tackle hoarding. These strategies are best used for children with mild-moderate signs of this type of problem. For children with more severe symptoms or who have been diagnosed with hoarding disorder, we recommend treatment with a mental health professional, although MAP strategies can be used at home to support your child’s therapy work.
Step 1. Helping your child become an expert on stress and anxiety
This is a very important first step, as it helps children understand what is happening to them when they experience stress and anxiety. Stress is a normal and routine part of living in the modern world, and is defined as any demand placed upon the body and mind. Stress may be both negative and positive, but only becomes a problem when we let life’s demands exceed the resources we have to cope. Resources can be both internal, such as our thoughts and feelings, and external, such as our actions, environment, and friends and family. In addition, teach your child that the worries and physical feelings she is experiencing have a name -anxiety- and that millions of other people also have anxiety, can be a great relief. Help your child become an expert on anxiety by providing him or her with facts and important information.
To learn how to explain this to your child, see Anxiety 101: What You and Your Child Need to Know About Anxiety and Talking to Your Child about Anxiety and the ABCs of Anxiety: Understanding How Anxiety Works and Fight-Flight-Freeze.
Step 2: Teaching your child about hoarding
- Reading or explaining some of the information outlined on the Hoarding page can help your child feel more in control of what is happening to him or her. Knowledge is power.
- Explain to your child Hoarding disorder is associated with three key features:
- Ongoing and significant difficulty getting rid of possessions regardless of the value; and strong urges to save and/or acquire new, often non-essential, items, that if prevented leads to extreme distress.
- Living space is severely cluttered, preventing it from being used for its intended purpose.
- Significant impairment in social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning such as school absences, trouble concentrating, family conflict, social isolation, and more.
- Recognize that simply because your child has less access to space in the home, and limited independence and financial means, does not mean that hoarding cannot occur. For these reasons hoarding presents differently in children than in adults (who have greater means to acquire and keep possessions). A Bedroom with huge quantities of seemingly non-valuable items (e.g., papers, rocks, broken or disused toys, old books and magazines no longer being read, wrappers, empty boxes or containers, etc.), packed into every crevice is one tip off. Another is insistence and persistence to acquire new items, after which those items often lay, discarded, in a corner somewhere. Finally, the severity to which your child responds when you try to stop them from keeping or acquiring items is a clue. Major tantrums or aggressive outbursts over your removing empty wrappers and containers from your child’s bedroom, is a message that there is a problem.
- Talk with your child about the difference between collecting versus hoarding, helping him to understand that there are key differences. For more information about this link to our Fact Sheet.
- Finally, let your child know that hoarding occurs in the lives of other children, and s/he is not the only one who feels this way.
Step 3: Creating your child’s MAP
The best way to help your child deal with hoarding is to give him or her tools that can be used to cope with the symptoms and urges to acquire and retain non-essential items. These tools are intended to increase your child's ability to tolerate anxiety, rather than to eliminate anxiety, which accompanies urges and actions associated with hoarding. For Hoarding, you can use any or all of the following anxiety tools to create your child's My Anxiety Plan (MAP). However, we caution that treatment for hoarding in children is still in development. As a result, we recommend that you contact a mental health professional to provide the latest treatment recommendations and guide you in this process. In addition, you can find more details about treatment for hoarding in the adult section.
- Talking to Your Child or about Anxiety
- When Anxiety Becomes a Problem: What’s Normal and What’s Not
- Naming the Bully
- Learning to Relax: Calm Breathing
- Learning to Relax: Muscle Relaxation
- Balanced Thinking
- Cognitive Coping Cards
- Addressing Excessive Reassurance Seeking
- Parent Assisted Rituals
- Methods for Addressing Hoarding
- Rewarding Bravery
- Overcoming Perfectionism
- Tolerating Uncertainty
Final point: Although increased knowledge and the many tools available on this website can be very effective in helping you to manage your child’s anxiety and hoarding, sometimes it is not enough. Sometimes children have very severe anxiety, and despite all your best efforts, your child might still be struggling daily with anxiety and symptoms of Hoarding. If this is the case, seek some professional help through a consult with your family doctor, psychiatrist, or a child psychologist/mental health worker.