It can be difficult as a parent to understand what to do when a young child becomes fixated on something. How do you cope? Do you go along with it, try and reason with them, or use a firm but gentle approach and refuse to indulge their predilection?
Fixations can take all sorts of forms:
- A child may only want to eat a single food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- A child may only want to watch a single type of movie again and again.
- A child may constantly complain that all their clothes make them itchy.
- A child may be fixated on an idea or character. For instance, they may insist that their room needs to be plastered with rainbows or unicorns.
Look for a Cause
What you think of silly or strange behavior may have a hidden cause. Since they have budding language skills, they may not be expressing the idea in a way that makes sense to you.
- They may like only one kind of food because they may have undetected food allergies and they find only one kind of food satisfying. In that case, the solution may be to find other foods that don’t create an adverse reaction.
- They may complain that all their clothes make them feel itchy because they have sensory processing disorder, which makes them oversensitive to things like wrinkles in clothes. In that case, the solution may be to buy seamless clothing for kids.
Since the cause may not be immediately obvious, you should work with pediatricians and child psychologists to find the underlying reason for their unusual fixation.
Encourage them to Open Up
Unfortunately, working with professionals may not get to the root of the issue. A pediatrician may find nothing and a psychologist may not be able to get your child to share what’s on their mind.
If you reach this impasse, then the next best alternative is to spend time encouraging your child to open up and think about what’s bothering them. In other words, if you can’t find an immediate answer, then your next best option is patient inquiry
On one hand, you may find that the fixation is a mere passing fantasy, just a normal part of an imaginative mind and something that they will grow out of in time — for instance, a keen interest in fairies, talking to invisible friends, or becoming an action hero. On the other hand, you may find that your child is showing symptoms of a psychological problem like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
4 Simple Strategies
Here are four strategies to get your child to begin talking to you more, sharing what’s on their minds, and exploring their own thoughts and feelings.
- Be receptive for their need to talk even if it’s at an inconvenient time.
Sometimes a child may want to talk to you about things, but you are preoccupied with something and tell them that you’ll talk to them later when you’re done. However, they may take this as a sign that you’re not really interested in what they have to say, so when you do get done with your task and ask them, they appear to have lost all interest.
- Initiate conversations by asking neutral questions but that require a real answer. For instance, you can ask them about their day at school, about their friends, about games or sports they played. These non-judgmental questions will encourage them to share their experiences and opinions.
- Refrain from the desire to coach, teach, advise, or provide solutions. Give your child the opportunity to express themselves fully, to find out what’s on their own minds. By listening carefully, without interrupting, they will learn to articulate things a little better.
- Spend quality time with your child every single day. Quality time means talking and playing. It doesn’t mean doing something distracting like watching television, where you’re both in close proximity but living in completely different worlds. Quality time means interaction.
Essentially, what you’re doing with these four steps is finding answers. You may find that there is nothing wrong or you may have to take appropriate action if you do find something wrong, like getting your child the medical, psychological, or remedial help that they need.