Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Have you ever noticed that your preschooler tends to be fixated on one particular item? Maybe he plays with trains all day and that’s all he talks about. Or perhaps he’s crazy about dinosaurs; he takes his toy models with him whenever you go out and clutches them in bed at night. You worry if this is a passion or a problem.
Relax. In most instances, this is simply a normal phase of development. He does this for several reasons:
1. He enjoys having a familiar object close to him. He knows its smell, texture, shape and sound. This makes him feel happy, safe and secure. He keeps this object close to him because it brings him pleasure.
2. He likes the control He chooses the item, decides it’s important and insists it should stay with him at all times. This feeling empowers him.
3. It’s a source of comfort He associates pleasant feelings with it. Therefore, having the item increases his sense of well-being and explains why he likes to play with it all the time.
4. It demonstrates individuality For some toddlers, it’s a sign that he’s unique and different from everyone else, and he’s proud of that fact. In most instances, he’ll lose interest in the toy after a few weeks – as long as you haven’t paid too much attention to it. Of course, you can chat with him and let him play with it as much as he wants, but don’t make it an area of confrontation between the two of you or he’ll cling even more tightly to it.
An obsession like this can be a problem, however, if it’s a sign of a deeper psychological concern. For example, a child whose parents separate may find comfort in one item in particular. Similarly, one who has difficulties mixing with others the same age may use his obsession as a form of escape from social contacts.
Look out for these warning signs that may signify an emotional difficulty:
1. His obsession dominates his life to the point that it entirely occupies his thoughts and becomes his only topic of conversation.
2. He would much rather spend all his time playing with whatever he’s obsessed with than spend time with his friends.
3. He refuses to leave the house without his toy, and explodes with rage when you don’t allow him to bring it along.
4. The obsession has already lasted several weeks and shows no signs of easing or changing. If anything, it intensifies.
5. He overreacts when he cannot bring it everywhere His distress continues unabated until he’s reunited with it.
If you’re concerned that the obsession has totally taken over your child’s waking thoughts, think carefully about all aspects of his life. Try to identify any area that might trouble him, such as problems with friends or siblings, or anxiety about leaving you while he attends nursery. When you address his underlying worry, his obsession will ease.
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