Does your child compulsively line up her stuffies? Need to be kissed 3 times before bed? Is she obsessed with horses? Or what her friend said earlier that day? We use the words obsessive and compulsive pretty broadly, then worry they might have clinical meaning.

But not every "obsession" is something to worry about, nor is every "compulsion" a sign of OCD. Many children perseverate. That means they get stuck – big time – but perseveration is not the same as OCD.

One key difference has to do with how much time the perseveration takes up. Another is whether or not your child wants to be thinking what she is thinking or doing what she is doing. While perseveration might drive you crazy (and often requires limit-setting; more on that another time), it is generally pleasurable to your child.

OCD, on the other hand, is highly distressing. OCD obsessions are, by definition, unwanted thoughts; compulsions are safety behaviors designed to ward off anxiety or harm. Neither are done for fun, or bring pleasure of any kind. For more on OCD, visit or the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation.