- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2006

My 2-year-old sometimes becomes obsessed with certain objects or activities. When this happens, it’s impossible to distract him or redirect him. Sometimes, if I try to get him to focus on something else, he begins to get really agitated. If I put him in timeout, he’ll calm down, but he usually starts right back up again when his time is up. Is this sort of obsessive behavior normal at this age, or is it something that needs to be addressed?

A: If by “addressed” you are asking if he might need some sort of professional evaluation or, heaven help us all, therapy, the answer is no. The behavior you’re describing is not at all unusual for toddlers. Furthermore, you are not describing misbehavior.

If I understand you correctly, your son becomes upset when you attempt to distract and redirect. I suggest that you are communicating your anxiety concerning this behavior to him, and he is becoming upset because he can’t understand why you are so determined to pull him away from something that fascinates him.

The fact is, the more you attempt to stop his “obsessing” — whether by redirecting or punishing — the more determined his obsessing is likely to become. As it is, you’re turning this into a power struggle of sorts when his behavior justifies nothing more than good-humored ignoring. If he wants you to participate in the “obsessing,” do so. Show great interest in what he’s trying to show you or do. This is going to run its course quickly if you just relax and roll with it.

From the “I told you so” department: I recently answered a reader’s question concerning preparing her not-yet-3-year-old daughter for the family’s upcoming move to a new house by pointing out that 50-plus years ago, no parent would have asked such a question. The asking reflects that today’s parents have what I call “psychological boogeymen” crawling around in their brains, creating a constant level of white noise that drowns out the voice of common sense.

I recommended that the parents inform the child of the move on the morning of the big day and that the informing be upbeat and positive, as in, “It’s a great day to move to a new house.”

In response to that column, I received the following e-mail from another reader: “In 1975, we were moving from an apartment to our first house with a 3-year-old. Being caring parents sensitive to expert advice, we spent weeks avoiding trauma to our son by telling him all about the wonderful new house and his new bedroom, playroom, yard, swing set, jungle gym, neighbors, park and so on and on, ad nauseam. He just became more and more depressed. Finally, he came out with it: ‘Who is going to be my new mommy?’ So much for following expert advice.”

Amen to that — but please, keep reading this column of expert advice.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).


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