Most parents aren’t parents for long before they find out all about childhood obsessions over, and over, and over and a few million more times over again. At first when your toddler must have everything princess, or ninja turtle, or whatever it is they have decided to fixate on for the time being you may find it cute. Then after about the gazillionth time you’ve watched Barbie Princess, Turtle Power or whatever, or dealt with the kicking screaming tantrum over not getting *this one* about the billionth time your child’s obsession goes from cute to downright capable of institutionalizing you.
First things first, why do kids fixate and obsesses on things?
Serious fixations and obsessions are most common with toddlers ages 2-4, though this isn’t to say they can’t occur in older children or even adults. Some physiologists feel the reason behind these little love fests for certain items, actions, foods, etc is the desire for routine and security. For a toddler the world is just changing everywhere and while that may be exciting it’s also terrifying. In reaction the toddler will pick one thing that just MUST be and build it into routine. As a result your child may for example demand sausage at every meal, or to wear the same pjs every night and want everything they see involving whatever is on those pjs. On a side note, action hero obsessions are more common in boys. Who would have guessed?
Toddlers are also famous for having one-track minds, impressive memories and iron clad wills. You may find shorter term obsessions fall into this category. Your child just got stuck on something for awhile.
Is it normal for a child to fixate or become obsessed with things or is it a sign of some sort of disorder?
Fixation and obsession is extremely common in toddlers, however it can be a sign of autism, OCD or other disorders. Can being the key word in that sentence. How an obsession is carried out and what the obsession is, are good cues to differentiate between normal and could be a problem. Kids with disorders that cause obsessions almost always have other symptoms. For example a child with autism may avoid eye contact and prefer only to play alone while obsessing. Watch for obsessions with certain actions or series of actions and withdrawn behavior. A child with a normal fixation will also (after a fit most likely) be willing to compromise or move on, while an obsession indicative of a problem is the end all and your child won’t get over it and move on. When in doubt of course it’s best to just describe your toddler’s behavior to your pediatrician or doctor and see what they think as all individual cases are different. Keep in mind in most cases fixation isn’t caused by an underlying disorder and is normal.
Is this childhood obsession thing another phase a kid grows out of?
Mostly yes. Almost all toddlers outgrow the obsessive phase by around 5 years old when they start going to school and that routine feeds their need for everyday normalcy. This doesn’t mean your older child may not obsessively collect baseball cards or something of that nature. However in older children childhood obsessions tend to lean more towards simply hobbies and interests and be less frequent and changing. The tantrums and fits also stop. You may find obsessions from your child’s toddlerhood extend into childhood but evolve. A toddler obsessed with my little pony may grow to insist on taking riding lessons as a child and as an adult may become a horse veterinarian for example. The things our children fixate when they are young can sometimes give hinting glimpses at what they’ll like and enjoy later in life and possibly maybe even what they’ll become as adults.
Most importantly, what can you do about childhood obsessions?
Many parents think there’s only two ways to deal with a childhood obsession, you outright ban it or you give in to it. While these are both options there is a middle ground in this parenting conundrum and it’s called compromise. It’s important you set limits with your child to preserve your sanity and raise a well behaved child, but on the flip side squashing your child’s obsessive interest in whatever he or she has chosen is entirely unnecessary. Rather use it to your advantage and build on it. You can use your child’s laser beam interest in something to teach, reward and encourage education, imagination and social interaction.
For example, say my toddler is madly in love with Elmo. I could get an Elmo plate setting which would likely encourage him to eat because he’s using his Elmo fork, plate and cup. This meal setting could be a reward for eating all his dinner all week. I could get books that teach colors or letters with Elmo in them. I could hold Elmo play dates with other children. We could play Elmo dress up and make up stories about our adventures. The possibilities really are endless if you stop viewing your child’s slightly annoying and intense interests as problem phases and view them as opportunities. Also remember when it gets to the point its driving you nuts, be firm but patient, you’re the parent just redirect your child’s attention temporarily.
You may also find helpful:
Toddler Night Terrors and Nightmares
Top Three Toys for Techie Toddlers (Technology Obsession)
What to Do When Your Toddler Won’t Keep Clothes On
American Baby on Toddler Obsessions
Practical Parenting on Childhood Obsessions and Fixations