Question : My son is 3 years old. He is very obsessed with Thomas the Train. When he plays with them, he will refuse to do anything else and even refuses to go out. When we request a change of activity, he will kick a big fuss and starts throwing big tantrums. Is it normal for children to have such an obsession and what can I do to get him to do other things rather than playing with only trains the whole day?
Answer : Dear Gwen, there might be many reasons for such a behaviour. Children are usually very much fascinated with cartoon characters and will look up to them as heroes. This is primarily due to media exposure and TV programmes.
Most children will outgrow their fascination when they find another new toy to their interest. A lot of boys love trains and action figures. Similarly, girls tend to imagine themselves as one of the princesses.
When a child is being observed to be too obsessed with a certain toy or activity, parents can try the following intervention strategies:
a) Introduce other kind of toys / activity gradually;
b) Start him on the new toy / activity by doing such activity with the child;
c) Prepare the child by talking to him about the activity or thing that you will be doing with him or taking him to.
d) Think of ways to include the child in other games, together with “Thomas the Train”. For example, going to the playground with “Thomas”, moving around a board game with “Thomas”.
e) Use positive approaches. Parents should praise the child when he is able to leave “Thomas” behind or put it down even if it was just a few minutes.
f) Care-givers must be patient and understanding when working with children with challenging behaviour.
Remember to be consistent and persistent in working towards your goal.
However, if the inclusion of “Thomas” does not get the child to participate in other games/activities, the parent needs to assess the severity of his tantrums.
There are many gifted children who are obsessed with certain objects / subjects such as trains, aeroplanes, Spiderman, astrology. These children are often very engrossed in talking about their obsession. On the other hand, children on the autism spectrum may also be obsessed with a certain toy or activity.
Care-givers need to observe the child and use the various intervention strategies to determine the seriousness of such obsession.