Parenting

How I Used My Kid's Dinosaur Obsession To Teach Him About Boundaries

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How I Used My Kid's Dinosaur Obsession To Teach Him About Boundaries
Katie Cloyd/Instagram

My kid loves dinosaurs. I mean, I know a lot of kids go through a dinosaur phase, but we are going on two years of dino-mania over here, and there is no end in sight. With the number of hours he dedicates to the topic every day, I don’t know how he hasn’t hit the bottom of the well of dinosaur knowledge. But according to him, he’s only scratched the surface. The more he learns, the more he wants to know.

Dinosaurs are his only true passion right now, and he doesn’t let us forget it.

He’s always been the chattiest child alive. His eyes open in the morning, and he starts talking. He doesn’t stop until he falls asleep at night. Literally. If nobody is listening, he just talks to himself. We know he’s fallen asleep when the murmuring in his room stops. He always has so many thoughts in his big, beautiful imagination, and he is happy to share them with anyone.

I love that about him. I honestly do. The sheer volume of information that his not-quite-8-year-old brain can hold amazes me. He’s brilliant.

But when you mix his propensity for constant chatter and his intense obsession with prehistory, do you know what you get?

Exhausted. You get exhausted.

I mean, I adore my baby, but I could not possibly care less about dinosaurs. Before he developed this devotion to the paleontological sciences, I knew probably 10 dinosaurs, and I was content with that. Give me a t-rex, maybe a nice triceratops or a brontosaurus. I knew about the pterodactyl, and I could probably pick a stegosaurus out of a lineup. Ankylosaurus? It might have rung a bell.

Now, thanks to my child’s unrelenting at-home dinosaur seminars, I know that dimorphodon and dilophosaurus have nothing in common except a few letters in their names. I can recognize a Parasaurolophus a mile away. I would never accidentally call the wrong quadruped sauropod a brontosaurus anymore. My son has fully educated me on apatosaurus, brachiosaurus and diplodocus.

I know my long necks.

We’ve all been home together since March, and my kid has taken this opportunity to conduct a never-ending dinosaur masterclass. It’s constant. I can’t even scramble myself an egg in the morning before my kid is bursting into the kitchen to educate me on the wonders of the rhamphorynchus.

Most of the time, I do my best to match his enthusiasm. I never want to step on his passion or squelch his thirst for knowledge. My child loves dinosaurs more than I have ever loved any non-human thing. I don’t want him to lose that love just because I don’t share it.

But I also don’t want to talk about dinosaurs every minute of my life, and neither do most of the other people my son meets.

Part of my job as a mom is to teach him how to be a member of society. He needs to learn how to read the room, and understand when he has had the floor too often or for too long.

It’s also important to me that he learns how to have a reciprocal conversation. In an interesting discussion, everyone gets a chance to raise a topic. I think it’s really important for my son to understand that sometimes, you have to put your most favorite topics away for a while and show the people around you that you are interested in them. If you’re always waiting to make your next point, you’re not listening.

I don’t want to be so blinded by my desire to validate his interests that I let him become the clueless guy who spends every conversation just looking for a way to talk about himself again. Nobody likes that guy. It wouldn’t be fair to my kid if I didn’t help him understand effective, friendly communication and give him ways to work on it even now.

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast in the car while my son worked on school work in the back seat. He finished before my episode was over, and he immediately started educating me about the carnotaurus against my will. He asked me to turn the podcast off so we could talk about it.

I did. I turned off the radio, and I let him finish.

Then I took the opportunity to have a gentle conversation about setting some dinosaur-talk boundaries.

I explained that I am impressed with his knowledge, proud of his passion, and very interested in everything he has to say. Then I told him that I would like to finish my podcast. He was more than welcome to draw a picture of a dinosaur or even watch a video about dinosaurs on the iPad he uses for school. I would not be joining him in the dinosaur conversation for a little while. It is not my area of interest, and I needed a break.

I explained that sometimes I need to talk or think about the things that make me as excited as dinosaurs make him.

It broke my heart to even plant a seed of doubt in the rich soil of his dinosaur-fixated mind, but I didn’t let my sadness change the course of the dialog. Even if it hurts me to teach it, he still deserves a chance to learn a lesson in the art of conversation and mutual respect.

He asked me a few questions to make sure I wasn’t upset. I reassured him, and he responded beautifully. I was so proud. He was quiet for a little while, then he piped up.

“How about when I want to talk about dinosaurs I can say, ‘Would you like to hear something about the acrocanthosaurus?’ or maybe even, ‘Is this a good time to talk about dinosaurs?’”

I agreed that asking first would be a very good first step in moderating the amount of time we spend discussing his favorite thing. Now when I say I need a break from dinosaurs, he says, “I’ll check with you in a bit to see if it’s a better time.” I always make sure the next time is a better time—even if it isn’t.

My kid has had a chance to show me that he can be reasonable and respectful. If I hadn’t set a boundary, he would not have had the chance to rise to the occasion. I am so relieved that I followed my gut on this one. I think I really did the right thing here.

My boy’s birthday is in a couple weeks. He will be eight years old, but in some ways, he’s already a delicious little old man wrapped up in a freckle-faced, second-grader’s body. He’s unusual in the best possible ways. I adore him. Of course, he has requested an all-dinosaur birthday, and I am happy to fulfill that desire. My closet is full of Jurassic-themed gifts sent by grandparents and aunts and uncles. He will have a volcano cake, and open his presents.

On his birthday, we will talk about dinosaurs as much as he wants. We will never say now is not a great time. But I know he will ask first, and that makes me so proud.

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