Saturday, 1 September 2012

Should I indulge or discourage my obsessed toddler?

It can be difficult for a parent to know what to do when faced with a toddler obsession. On the one hand you want to encourage your child's creativity, and celebrate the little personality that you can see emerging. On the other hand, a fixated toddler can sometimes be difficult to deal with, and removing the source of the obsession can lead to tantrums and upset.
I know how frustrating it can be for a parent dealing with an obsessed toddler. A walk with my toddler takes a lot longer when he is pretending to be a car, and insists on stopping to refuel or pausing at pretend red traffic lights. It can lead to a meltdown if his favourite green bowl is in the dishwasher or his digger t-shirt is in the wash. On the other hand, my usually fussy son will eat all of his lunch from a green plate if his sandwiches have been cut up in just the right way.
You don't have to fully indulge or completely discourage your toddler's obsession, there is a middle ground. Toddlers are constantly learning about the world around them, and a toddler obsession presents fantastic opportunities for encouraging a love of learning and exploration. Try to take their interest and develop it in lots of different ways. As an example, if your particular child is fixated upon tractors, visit the library or bookshop and find some books to learn more about them. Read the books together and talk about what is happening. You will find that your own knowledge of farming machinery also increases rapidly!
You can use the computer together to look for photographs to talk about and for line drawings to colour in. Take out any toy tractors that you can find and set them up in the garden to dig around in the mud or sandpit. Use a tractor cutter to make tractor shaped biscuits or sandwiches or make a tractor from cardboard boxes. You could help an older child to put together a simple scrapbook about their obsession, cutting out and glueing in pictures and learning some interesting facts. Find out if there is a local museum where you can look at some tractors, or perhaps a pick your own farm that offers tractor rides. This blog contains plenty of ideas and activity suggestions on a range of things that a toddler might be obsessed with.
It is a shame to discourage an interest which can be a real trigger for learning opportunities. However it is of course a good idea to set limits. If your toddler insists on wearing a certain item of clothing constantly, decide when and where is appropriate for them to wear it and remain firm. If your toddler is old enough to understand, explain that you can't take a favourite toy everywhere in case it gets lost, and certain clothes are only for wear around the house. Try to avoid getting in to the habit of always offering a particular drink in a particular cup, in case you reach a point where the toddler will not accept an alternative.
Of course, if you have any worries about your child's behaviour, it's always best to have a chat with your Health Visitor or GP.

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