Friday, November 14, 2008

Discourage Your Child's Obsessions?

In my practice, I frequently encounter children who have very specific interests (e.g., airplanes, movies, Star Wars, politics (believe it or not, this is true)). These children think and talk about these interests constantly, to the point where others, including parents and professionals, begin stating that these children have significant "obsessions." Some of these children may have autism, some may have ADHD, some may have OCD, and others may be considered normal. The question frequently posed is "Should I discourage my child from thinking about this all the time?"

Earlier in my career, I would have answered this question with a definitive "Yes!" However, as my experience with children has accumulated, I now have come to believe that there are instances where a child should actually be encouraged to follow the obsession. If you can somehow make it so that the obsession is a socially acceptable activity with lots of rewards, then allowing the child to follow the obsession is not such a bad thing. For example, if a child is obsessed with American history (this also happens), then teaching the child to be a historian could be a goal. If a child is obsessed with math, teaching a child to be an expert mathematician could be the goal. If a child is obsessed with machinery, a strategy could be to help the child learn as much as possible about different types of machines.

People may fear that the obsession could interfere with other activities, or that the child will not be "well rounded". However, in my mind we have actually become "obsessed" ourselves with the idea of being well rounded. Not everyone is meant to be well rounded. Why does everyone have to be like everyone else? Why can't some of us "hyperfocus" on the things we like and be a little bit odd in other areas of our lives? These are just some thoughts of mine that surfaced when I read the article, Using Your Child's Obsession in Homeschooling . Read this for yourself and see what you think.