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Understanding & Managing Childhood Obsessions

Most of us can remember back to our own childhood to the days of dinosaurs, trainings, and princesses. As we raise our children, it’s easy to recognize this behavior as they develop their own favorite toys and habits. But how do we understand what crosses the line from healthy curiosity to full-blown fixation? Keep reading to learn how these intense interests develop and how we can better manage childhood obsessions.

Why Childhood Obsessions Happen

For younger, preschool-age children, it can be just another stage in their development. There is a time in kids’ lives (between the ages of 2 and 6) where they start to develop specific interests. These healthy fixations should fade over time once the child begins grade school and social and academic interests and obligations take over.

Interest may be one of the child’s first emotions. Even from the moment they grab their mother’s shiny earring as a baby, there is that spark of interest. There’s also a feeling of mastery. It’s a motivating factor for the child to feel that they know something that an adult they admire doesn’t. This first taste of feeling like an expert is what encourages the intense interest, especially with this being during their peak ages of imagination-based play.

Benefits of Childhood Obsessions

1. Create Stronger, More Diverse Skillsets

When a child has an intense interest, they gain skills that allow them to be more persistent in wanting to acquire more knowledge of that topic. This can also build a better attention span and deeper information-processing skills. Each of these skills lays a foundation for a strong ability to research and retain knowledge for their academic and professional future.

2. Develop Confidence & Self-Esteem

There is something about being an expert on a topic that makes us feel confident. Building self-esteem from a young age is important because it will prevent the formation of barriers to learning. When a child feels insecure, they might feel dumb or embarrassed. This leads to shutting down in school or acting out. With a habit of becoming masters of a topic, they will build an emotional health that sparks interest, curiosity, and exploration.

Look Out for Warning Signs

What started as a healthy, intense interest can become an all-consuming obsession. If a child’s interest starts to interfere with other areas of development (such as social relationships and performance at school), there may be a problem. If they begins to pull away from all other interests or activities or isolates themselves, then steps should be taken to see what’s going on.

One of the biggest fears a parent might have is whether their child’s obsession is a sign of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Asperger’s Syndrome (AD). While an interest in one particular thing can be a sign for ASD or AD, it isn’t the only criteria. A child suspected of having either of those disorders is put through a comprehensive assessment that considers several other behaviors and factors.

How to Encourage Healthy Childhood Obsessions

For all the positive aspects of this natural stage of obsession, we want to encourage this growth by engaging with our children. Allow exploration by doing internet research with them, watching documentaries, or taking them to the library. Let the child guide you and teach you about it. This allows them to take charge of their own learning, which carries on into grade school. Show genuine interest by asking questions. Let them talk about it while getting excited with them. If you can come up with crafts or projects on those topics, do that as well.

Curiosity is a natural and positive component of your child’s development. Learn to recognize these behaviors and encourage these interests while still looking out for possible warning signs. More often than not, childhood obsessions are just another building block on the way to an active imagination and good academic habits! Embrace your child’s intense interest and you will likely have a stronger bond and a happier, more confident child!

Laura Petel