WHITNEY: Little obsessions
There are four choices for entertainment in our house: We watch "The Incredibles," "The Lion King," "Curious George" or "Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood."
There are only four kinds of toys: A family of horses, a sheep, pig and chicken which must be kept together in a purse, a few assorted dinosaurs, and Buddy, the omnipresent, possibly genderqueer giraffe who sleeps with Olivia every night (she can’t decide if Buddy is he or she).
There’s also a thing about apples and marshmallows being the only desirable foods. And a thing about mom and dad always leaving to “run errands.” And a thing about blowing on the cats, which is something so inexplicable I’ll leave it just that way.
Olivia has a lot of little obsessions, and some obsessions within obsessions. With "The Incredibles," for example, she’s amazed that Mr. Incredible eats shrimp on a plane, a fact that comprises about two seconds of screen time and has no relevance to the overall plot. And the toys? All animals. Another obsession.
Turns out, toddler obsessions are "A Thing," but you probably knew that. I kind of did too, but I didn’t really understand it until I researched it a little. This is what I learned.
Part of what causes obsession in little kids is their craving for stability and routine. They like knowing what comes next, knowing what to expect, feeling in control. They learn about dinosaurs, they “get” dinosaurs, so they stick to dinosaurs. They’re a known quantity in a world that can be pretty confusing when you’re three feet tall.
There’s also the matter of a child’s still-developing brain. They only like horses, superheros and lions because their brain only has room for horses, superheros and lions right now. As they get bigger, they’ll have room to love more things and shift their focus between the things they like. But for now, three favorite things might be just enough.
Little kids are also very impressionable, and that’s where you have to be careful about behavior being modeled by the big people in their lives and in the media they consume. They’re prone to fixate on what they see around them. My real life example: In one particular episode of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” the kids all try different vegetables. When the conversation shifted to carrots, Olivia suddenly needed to have carrots. When the cat on the show insisted she didn’t like carrots, Olivia insisted that she “can’t like carrots.”
What are we supposed to do about this, other than tune out and let our brains go numb as we listen to “Hakuna Matata” for the 30th time?
Actually, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do with our kids’ obsessions. Ride them out. Indulge them even. Maybe the Lion King obsession will run its course, maybe it won’t. Either way, there’s nothing wrong with it.
So if anyone needs me, I’ll probably be staring with glazed-over eyes at the 30th showing of "Daniel Tiger" this week. If you can’t find me there, chances are I’m searching for one of the three farm animals that aren’t supposed to leave each other’s sides.
If you come, bring me a drink?