Does Baby have a favorite subject? Whether it’s dinosaurs, tea parties, or the escalator at the mall, most toddlers go through phases where they have one very, very favorite thing (or even a series of them), and nothing else quite compares.
Sometimes a toddler’s obsession is an interest that’s the intense, toddler version of a hobby (like running out to see the garbage truck pick up the trash every week), while in other cases, it might be something less comprehensible to adults (like wanting to wear shoes everywhere – including to bed or in the bath). There are probably a few different reasons for any toddler’s strange or intense interests, and one of them is likely the very same reason some adults buy the same favorite pair of shoes every time the old pair gets worn out – they just like what they like. Another big reason, though, is that when toddlers are inflexible, or stuck in a routine, it’s often their way of having some control over their lives.
When toddlers try to take control of parts of their lives, they’re taking steps towards being able to have better control over their emotions, to comfort themselves when they feel overwhelmed, and to feel confident about their own ability to make choices. On the other hand, part of preparing toddlers for getting older is teaching them about limits, including the limits of what they can control. If you set sensible limits for your family – maybe Baby can only have the exact same favorite dinner three days a week – you’ll let her know that you respect what she wants, but that she’s also going to have to learn to be flexible.
Toddler interests and your family’s routine
Toddlers’ natural predisposition to order and routine can mean that they fall into ruts where they’ll only eat one type of breakfast food, only wear one pair of shoes, or will only go to sleep if their bedtime routines are followed just right. This is pretty normal from a developmental perspective and isn’t necessarily a problem, but if you feel up to a few difficult episodes, allowing some reasonable variations in the routine (like offering her a different cereal bowl if her favorite one has to be washed) can help Baby learn to be more flexible and to practice her patience and self-control, even when she doesn’t get what she wants.
On the other hand, just because Baby may be super duper into something that you think is a little strange, that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t get what she wants now and then. Toddlers are in that magical stage of their lives where they don’t always know, or care, what “normal” is supposed to be. Unless there’s something actually harmful about a toddler’s very favorite thing, there’s no reason to discourage it – plus she will probably be moving on to something new before you know it, even if, in the moment, a phase feels endless.
Getting through an obsession
Knowing that toddler obsessions are natural – and even healthy – ways for tots to handle their ever-changing environment doesn’t mean that it’s always easy for a parent. In a lot of cases, though, the best way to get through a toddler’s obsession is just to lean into it. Is there something about Baby’s latest interest that could interest you too? Is there a way that you can enjoy her favorite thing together? Taking an interest in another’s interests is as good a way to bond with toddlers as it is with adults, after all. And honestly, haven’t you ever gone through a phase where you just had to play that one song on repeat? This is a little like that.
- Claire Lerner, Rebecca Parlakian. “Children with shy or slow to warm up temperaments.” ZERO TO THREE. Zero to Three, February 18 2016. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/198-children-with-shy-or-slow-to-warm-up-temperaments. Retrieved March 7 2018.
- Tameika Reece. “Wacky toddler behavior: Toddler obsessions.” Parents. Meredith women’s network, 2014. https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/behavioral/wacky-toddler-behavior-toddler-obsessions/. Retrieved March 7 2018.
- “My 2-year-old always has to have her way–from what she wears to the bowl she uses for cereal.” ZERO TO THREE. Zero to Three, February 29 2016. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/330-my-2-year-old-always-has-to-have-her-way-from-what-she-wears-to-the-bowl-she-uses-for-cereal. Retrieved March 7 2018.