Ask the Internet: Obsession Edition

by Ginger on October 25, 2012

in The Kid

It’s been a while since I’ve done an Ask the Internet, but I’d love to get opinions on this one, so let’s do it!

Is there a point at which you would/should stop indulging a kid’s obsession with something (provided it’s not harmful/dangerous of course)?

So here’s the genesis of that question: My kid is obsessed with puzzles. He wakes up and wants to do puzzles. We eat breakfast and he wants to do puzzles. He does puzzles at school. He does them before dinner and after dinner. He doesn’t play with many other toys/activities BUT puzzles these days, unless we push.

He’s really good at them too. He can do 100-150 piece puzzles with no help from us (well, he usually needs our help the first time. After that he’s good). He can do 300 piece puzzles with some help from us. Now he’s starting to try 500 piece puzzles. It’s…kinda freaky actually.

And I know that puzzles are great for his development, so all things being equal, I’ll take it.

But, it’s ALL he wants to do, and I wonder if we should be…not discouraging him from the puzzles, exactly, but steering him towards other things more often. We do guide him to other activities, but in a pinch we know we can turn to puzzles for 15-45 minutes of quiet time, so…that ends up the default a fair amount of time. But should we be saying no to the puzzles more in an effort to get him to try doing other things?

(Watch, I post this and it becomes a moot point as he moves on to the next obsession).

Breeb October 25, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Hi Ginger—

As a Mom and GrandMom I say to let him do all the puzzles he wants—he will get it out of his system and go on to other interests. Oh he will go back to puzzles perhaps not with the same interest. I remember when my 2 were younger that we would do puzzles together, in fact even in their teens I would be working on a puzzle and would discover one or both had “helped’ solve, in fact at times would complete them! I always knew when my son had solved it—he would leave the last piece out! I understand from his children that he has done the same to them….always had a goofy sense of humor!
You have a very bright young man there….from here on you will find his interests changing all the time. A challenging age….lots of questions and will keep asking until he is satisfied with your answer!
You are a wonderful Mom.

Jesabes October 25, 2012 at 6:59 pm

I tend to go on obsessive jags, too, usually with Sudoku puzzles or new TV shows. I say let him keep going! He’ll move on eventually and, really, the best part for me is getting better at something (I suppose that doesn’t apply to TV shows, but you know what I mean). Putting together progressively bigger puzzles – or doing harder Sudoku – is really basically what I do for a living (I’m an auditor, so we’re put in charge of bigger and bigger audits, but every one is still basically the same), so it’s good practice for the future!

Deborah October 25, 2012 at 8:28 pm

I had one of those kids. He did eventually move on to other things as he got older, but he never really outgrew his love of puzzles…he just changed from puzzles to mazes to word puzzles to Rubik’s cubes to video and computer games. One of the things I learned ( and shared with his teachers) was that puzzles could motivate him like nothing else. Instead of rewarding him for good behavior or getting something accomplished and getting a treat or prize…which didn’t work…he could be motivated by allowing him to do a puzzle when ordinarily he wouldn’t be allowed to do that…like at school. Worked like a charm.

Ginger October 26, 2012 at 4:33 pm

We definitely have used puzzles as a reward/motivator, and they use them at school the same way. It’s a great tool that way!

Kate October 26, 2012 at 12:00 am

Beckett goes through these fazes and become focused on an activity/toy. Enjoy the peace and quiet while he is occupied. 🙂

cliffie October 26, 2012 at 4:14 am

It’s a great activity, so much better than TV or video games. Let him enjoy, he will move on when he is ready.

Tragic Sandwich October 26, 2012 at 9:00 am

Let him do it. There’s a lot he’s learning, and it’s not just about how to do a puzzle. Plus there’s a very real chance that he will interpret your attempts at diversification as saying “There’s something wrong with doing puzzles.” And there isn’t, really.

But I hear you. Baguette is really into stacking right now. Also hats. Although now that I think about it, she’s also stacking the hats.

Ginger October 26, 2012 at 4:34 pm

I love the image of the stacking of hats. It makes me giggle for some reason.

We definitely don’t want him to think there’s anything wrong with puzzles. We LOVE that he does puzzles! The obsession part just gets…intense sometimes, so I wonder.

shasta October 26, 2012 at 10:34 am

OK, I’m actually on the other side – I think you might want to examine WHY the obsessiveness for the puzzles is there. Doing an activity repeatedly for fun or leisure is one thing, but if he’s actively upset or resistant (e.g. crying, screaming, yelling) when you change tasks or suggest changing tasks, that could be a sign of a problem. Lots of kids get super-obsessed with things because it’s way for their developing minds to reduce anxiety by engaging with something known and familiar. As awesome as the quiet time to yourself might be, if he seems to be disengaging with you for puzzles or upset by being separated from puzzles, I’d help him try other things and play with puzzles in moderation. I’m learning quickly that self-regulation isn’t something that comes easily with small kids.

Ginger October 26, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Yeah, it’s that self regulation thing I’m a little concerned about. I do think it’s a combo of things–he does genuinely enjoy them, but I do think there are times that they’re a comfort thing too.

Jess @ Wrangling Chaos October 26, 2012 at 3:46 pm

That’s actually a very, VERY typical behavior in toddlers/preschool aged kids. As a former teacher, and a mom of four, I know that developmentally, it’s very normal for kids to be obsessive with something for a period of time.

Does his wanting to do puzzles interfere with normal stuff like eating meals, going out, or taking a bath? Does he want to do puzzles more than anything, including other super fun stuff? Like given a choice between puzzles and going to the park/whatever, would he pick the puzzles?

If it’s just that he prefers to play with puzzles over all other toys, then it’s VERY NORMAL. Seriously. All kinds get obsessive. Mine have all done it, and eventually moved on to other obsessions because that’s how kids learn.

Ginger October 26, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Sometimes, yeah, the puzzles are at the expense of other things, even things he likes to do or wanted to do. There have definitely been times when he’s picked doing the puzzles over doing something else “fun.” I wonder if some of that is because of his challenges with transitions though–if he’s having fun with a puzzle, transitioning to something else, no matter how fun, might not seem comfortable or enticing? I don’t know.

Cloud October 27, 2012 at 8:40 am

I’m late to the party, but I’ll add my vote to not worry about this. My oldest used to LOVE to line things up. I have a bunch of pictures of my shoes all lined up, of her toys all lined up, etc. We worried a bit, but she’s grown out of it. She also loved puzzles, and had a phase where if she picked a toy it was a puzzle. She’s still good at puzzles, but not so interested in them anymore.

Betty Huffman October 27, 2012 at 11:14 am

Our oldest son did the same thing. First he had an obsession with playing his little Fischer Price toy drum. He was playing like he was in a marching band and making up his own cadences. My husband and I have music backgrounds, and we were amazed that a 2 year old could make up such complicated cadences and repeat them over and over again and even remember them days later. This lasted about a full year! The following year he moved on to playing “record players.” He would take just about ANYTHING and “create” his own little turntable (I’m giving away my age here!) with a record on it, turn it around and around, and pretend he was playing records. Again, this lasted about a year. About the time he started school he became interested in maps and drawing maps. Any time we would take a trip, he would sit in the car with his pencil and paper and draw the road with every detailed curve and turn. He did this for most of the WHOLE trip, no matter how long! When at home he would sit for hours and re-draw his road maps. Around first grade he became obsessed with the weather. He drew COUNTLESS weather maps (still drawing maps!), he knew most all of the weather terminology, and he gave weather forecasts multiple times during the day. He wanted a full-sized easel for either Christmas or birthday along with a gigantic sized (like 2 X 3ft.) pad of paper, so he could draw his weather maps and present his forecasts to family and friends in a more “professional” manner. I have video of him giving weather forecasts when he was in 1st and 2nd grades! (NOTE: By 3rd grade he could draw a map of the whole US, filling in ALL the states with correct shapes and proportions, WITHOUT LOOKING OFF OF ANOTHER MAP!…sorry, I had to brag a little) Many times his forecasts were more accurate than the guys on TV! By 4th or 5th grade he would actually stay up ALL night watching if a storm was coming in to our area. It wasn’t long before I could sleep very soundly during the night when we had storms because I KNEW our son would be up keeping an “eye” on it, and he would wake us if it got bad and we needed to take cover. THE RESULT: We are now the proud parents of a Chief Meteorologist at an SEC University who is in charge of all their weather casting on their TV and radio stations, and is training students to become weather casters. To this day our son still calls us to tell us when a bad storm is headed our way (we live in another state – about a 20 hour drive away). So, in my opinion, kids at any age who have an obsession with something they like to do is definitely OK — they just might be giving you a glimpse into their future lifetime vocation!

Classic NYer October 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm

From the pov of a little girl who had a tendency to move from obsession to obsession… just let him have it. Eventually he’ll get bored and find himself something else to do. In the mean time, just enjoy the fact that he’s not stealing things, spraying graffitti, doing drugs or out drinking alcohol with pirates.

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