My sons are eight and five. As a thirty-six-year-old woman, my interests and theirs rarely overlap. Kids, unfortunately, are not always known to read the freaking room. They have intense interests, and those things dominate our conversations. This means that I spend about ninety-nine percent of my life pretending to care about the things my kids are obsessed with. Someone get me an Oscar. I’ve learned how to look interested and mentally plan my grocery list or outline my next article at the exact same time. It’s a talent.
Neither one of my children has whatever gene allows a person to be casually interested in literally anything. When a child of mine develops a new interest, it is all-consuming. We are on that train until they decide to jump to a new track.
My oldest son’s first intense interest was elephants, and it happened before his second birthday.
He played with elephant toys, watched elephant documentaries, and fell asleep surrounded by stuffed elephants. They still hold a place in his heart, but throughout the years we have cycled through some new interests. He spent a few months on marine mammals, moved on to the animals of the African savannah, then landed on dinosaurs, which ended up being the true love of his life. Since he was five and a half, it’s been all dinosaurs all the time. Dino birthday parties. Educational dinosaur podcasts. A huge dinosaur toy collection. A small collection of actual fossils. Dinosaur school supplies.
We actually used his obsession to teach him about boundaries. He has to ask if it’s a good time to impart dinosaur knowledge before he just launches into the lesson. It’s worked pretty well. (I’m lying. It hasn’t worked at all. I never have it in me to tell him it’s not a good time. I listened to him blather on and on about Sarcosuchus just this morning while I was curling my hair. But he did ask first, so…)
When my friend’s son introduced him to Minecraft a few months ago and he latched onto it, I was kind of relieved.
Maybe we would get a break from prehistory and all its many creatures? Wishful thinking. His older, smarter brain can apparently obsess about two things at once now. Rather than moving on from dinosaurs, he has just added Minecraft. Now I spend my days learning about creepers and withers and diamond swords IN ADDITION TO Protoceratops, Utahraptor and Tuojiangosaurus, which, apparently, is a real thing.
It can be a little suffocating.
But it is nothing to be worried about. According to an article I recently read on LiveScience, “In some cases, [an intense interest] is just enjoyable. It’s [just] something they like,” said Judy DeLoache, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “It’s perfectly normal. There isn’t anything weird about it.”
My second son is a letters and numbers guy.
He loves spelling and taught himself to read because of his love of letters. After letters, he moved onto numbers. He enjoys counting, and breaking big numbers down into smaller groups. He also really loves complete sets. His favorite toys are sets of small figurines that all go together. He likes to keep the like sets in small zippered bags and carry them everywhere he goes. Right now, he is carrying “five sets of five” magnet tiles and all the characters from Blue’s Clues with him in a makeup bag I handed down to him.
It’s kind of lucky that our oldest son prepared us for his brother’s laser focus on his favorite topics. This kind of intense interest in something that excites them is pretty common in autistic kids, and our little guy is on the spectrum. We are HUGE believers that autism is not a tragedy, an ASD diagnosis is not bad news, and neurodiversity is the spice of life. We roll with intense interests around here. It’s been working for us so far for our neurotypical kid and our autistic guy.
And apparently, that’s the scientifically-backed way to go!
According to Smart Parenting, “being fascinated with a “conceptual” topic like dinosaurs has been linked to better attention spans, ‘deeper levels’ of information processing skills, and increased knowledge and persistence, according to a 2008 study performed by researchers from the University of Wisconsin and Indiana University.”
That’s great news for parents like me whose kids won’t rest until they are subject matter experts on whatever their chosen flavor happens to be!
Developing an interest and then purposefully seeking more knowledge about it is really good for our kids. It will help them develop skills they will need to be productive adults who can succeed in their chosen fields. It also helps them develop confidence. What kid doesn’t love feeling like an expert and being able to teach their grownups the things they’ve learned?
When your kids has an intense interest that really feels like an all-consuming obsession, talking to them can make you feel a little bonkers. How can one tiny head hold all those facts and never tire of sharing them? It’s enough to scramble a busy parent’s brain. The good news is, you can’t actually die from ingesting one too many dinosaur/horse/soccer/video game/geology facts (I’ve checked) so odds are good that we will make it through these phases relatively unscathed. Hang in there, and remember that this obsession is unlikely to last forever—and if it does, maybe your kiddo has a great head start on their future hobby or potential career.