Childhood Obsessions: What Are Your Kids Into?

Over the last year or two, my daughter Betty has developed a deep love of unicorns. A passion? An obsession? Not sure how to classify it, but she is WAY into them. Her heart skips a beat with every unicorn image she sees, and at the top of every wish list she makes (for holidays or birthdays) is a unicorn-something-or-other.

I saw Betty reading The Last Unicorn the other day, and it started me thinking about my other kids and their particular obsessions. It occurred to me that only some of my kids had really developed specific obsessions (at least so far), and that the same was true in the 8-kid house I grew up with. It doesn’t seem to be a universal thing, and it makes me wonder if it’s more of a personality type.

I have one brother who is totally prone to obsessions. As a kid, it was baseball cards, then aquarium fish, then extreme-skiing. As an adult, it’s been flash (programming), paragliding and solo backpacking. In each case, the passions don’t seem to overlap much time-wise. He’s really, really into something, and then he’s really, really into the next thing. He doesn’t dislike the previous passion, he just becomes more passionate about the next thing. And he dives deep. Whatever the passion is, he’s all in. Books, magazines, movies, equipment, online groups, and lots of participating in real life.

 


gifts for a unicorn obsessed kid

Unicorn Sources: When Your Kid Is Unicorn Obsessed.

1) Unicorn tape dispenser, to spark many creative projects.
2) Iron-on patch, for a backpack or jean jacket.
3) Dying over this rainbow backpack! I love the low positioning.
4) Unicorn Snot, glitter gel for the whole body!
5) Geometric unicorn necklace, so charming.
6) Cupcake toppers for any sweet occasion.
7) Epic pool float.
8) I’d love this magnetic unicorn on Betty’s vanity for bobby pins!
9) Origami enamel pin to adorn any favorite item.
10) This wooden wall art is just too cool.
11) Unicorn make-up brushes, just to dust some blush and glitter would be a treat.
12) Darling knee high socks perfectly adorned.
13) Unicorn Vans, enough said.

Bonus: Unicorn doll in the top photo is by Meri Meri. It’s Betty’s favorite. It’s about 18″ and so adorable. I love the closed eye.


 

My daughter Olive seems to have similar tendencies — she gets really passionate and dives deep, and then eventually moves on to the next obsession. Perhaps Betty will follow in her footsteps. But for the other kids I don’t see a pattern as clearly. Yes, Oscar likes sharks, and Maude loved cross-country for a couple of years, but the passion doesn’t seem to go as deep or get replaced by another passion.

Having a kid with an obsession is nothing I worry about, but it does make me curious. Do you feel like any of your kids have obsessions? If yes, do they seem to be permanent obsessions, or do they shift every couple of years? Do you find it worrisome or see it as a cute quirk? (I suppose it might depend on the actual obsession.) I’d love to hear your take.

63 thoughts on “Childhood Obsessions: What Are Your Kids Into?”

  1. My oldest is 5 turning 6, since he was 1 year old, he has been obsessed with cars, trucks and trains. He is still very in love with Thomas and Friends even though majority of kids his age have long abandoned Thomas. his younger sister who is 3 on the other hand is not obsessed about anything at all. She just kind of go along with what big brother is playing. So to be perfectly honest, i have not bought many toys for my daughter. All she has is either whatever we’ve already owned before she’s born (kitchen and one doll house) or a hand me down from friends and family

  2. My daughter (7) is obsessed with mushrooms! Like actual mushrooms. She begged us to buy her a comprehensive mushroom guide, and to take her to a class on mushrooms. We collect them, study them, draw them, and, occasionally, eat them. It’s a thing. Luckily, we live in the woods, and there are at least 10 varieties of mushroom available in our yard. Unluckily, some of them are poisonous, so we’ve got to be really careful.

  3. One of my older son’s obsessions when he was 3-5 was car air fresheners – the pine tree ones you hang on your rear view mirror. He wanted to give them to everyone and they had to match the color of their car. We soon found out which color/scents were stinky. Any trip to Wal-Mart had to include a trip to the automotive section.

    My younger son has loved penguins and frogs for at least half of his life (currently 8 yr old). For over a year he has stated he wants to be a penguin scientist when he grows up. Thanks to him I can rattle off the names of at least 8 species of penguins.

      1. Yes!! My six-year-old has been obsessed with penguins since he could talk. He asked me if I could style his hair like a macaroni penguin for picture day today. 😂

  4. Oh my gosh – you have TOTALLY just described my Dad. It is a running joke in our family that we have all been “victims” of his obsessions. There was the year we ate risotto literally every. single. night. while he perfected his recipe and technique. He then moved onto building and flying model airplanes. He’s now into singing — singing lessons, singing in choirs, singing randomly at home (which would be a lot more charming if he could actually carry a tune! Dear old Dad). :)

    Long story short – I totally think it’s a personality thing. So interesting!

  5. Growing up I was obsessed with Hello Kitty. Back in the day the fact that it was rare to find in any stores where I grew up made it that much more prized in my eyes. I would save anything that had the character’s face on it: wrappers, packaging, everything. I didn’t start to grow out of it until towards the end of high school. So from my own experience, I would say these types of obsessions are definitely a personality thing and kids out-grow them eventually :)

  6. Well, they sound like “Scanners” to me. Check out Barbara Sher’s book “Refuse to choose”.

    I recently did the book club and it totally changed the way I think about myself – flying from one passion to the next and diving in deeply every time.

    Barbara has a lot of videos on her youtube channel where she explains the concept of scanners (or Renaissance People or multipotentialists or hummingbirds).

      1. It also helps a lot with my 7 year old son who is currently into trains. He knows every detail about them – size, weight…

        There have already been dinosaurs, cars, soccer players, fire trucks and so on. Always all consuming and then suddenly over.

        I love to go along with his “obsessions” and help him discover new treasures. It is so great to witness his excitement and passion.

  7. It describes my older son so well! When he was 4 he was obsessed with all things universe (he had very detailed information about supernovas and so on). After a few months he moved his interest to something else and never ever asked a single question about universe again (he is now almost 8). My younger son on contrary does not have any obsessions like this so I think it’s a matter of character.
    What I find difficult is the time between obsession periods – my son seems unsettled an he can’t find himself a place. It looks like unnatural state for his mind to not have any obsession to think about.

    1. Oh, I absolutely agree–the in-between times are tough on my son too! And though I try to help, he usually has to find his own way to the new obsession.

      I just now realized I might have this myself: I’m happiest when I’m really into a good book. I’m a little bummed when I’ve just finished something great and haven’t found the Next One yet. Huh! =)

      1. This describes my son’s best friend perfectly. He’s obsessed with one thing at a time, and very deeply. When he was preschool age, it was letters and numbers, then presidents, then Mario Brothers, and now aquarium fish. I thought he was the only person on the planet with an aquarium fish obsession, so that’s so funny to find out your brother had one too, Gabby! He’s is also very unsettled between obsessions – there was a long gap between Mario Brothers and the aquarium fish, and his mom was relieved when the new obsession took hold (although she’s at her definite limit of fish in the house). He and my son have been best friends since they were 2 (they are 11 now), and it’s taught my son a lot of patience, especially when the obsession centers around something he has zero interest in.

        My own two kids have had “phases” (my 9 year old daughter went through a two year space phase) and “interests” (my 11 year old loves collecting cicada exoskeletons and coins and has for years) but they haven’t ever risen to the “obsession” level of my son’s friend.

  8. My dad is totally into 1 thing at a time. Over the years its been water skiing, ice hockey, snowboarding, wake boarding, bow hunting, fishing and now the latest is mountain biking. As a teen it was the snowboarding thing at the time so I was happy about that! Many trips to the mountain.

  9. It does make Christmas shopping easier! My four kids are pretty much each Shakespeare, art, Harry Potter, and animals, but it’s been consistent for their lifetimes. Child #1 (Shakespeare girl) and #3 (Harry Potter boy) are the ones I’d say are more obsessive/passionate, while the other two it’s more just their thing. I actually think my daughter first got into Shakespeare as an eight year old because I confessed that I’d never liked his work, so it was a rebellious/not-Mom differentiation. In the twelve years since then, she’s read his canon, seen almost all of it (just a few of the more obscure plays to go), directed a Shakespeare play, visited Stratford, etc. And here I thought I was done with him after high school English…

  10. Definitely personality… It’s for sure how I am and my husband is (though he bounces between things more often), and my kids (10 & 6) clearly have the same personality… Minecraft, Star Wars, Zelda, Coding for my son, Moana, Unicorns, Ninja warrior for my daughter. And now I want to read that book. Except I’m nervous it will tell me we’re broken.

  11. I was just saying the other day that I didn’t have children that obsessed. Except one. Annie. The movie, the songs, the clothing, black Annie, white Annie. All Annie all the time. My 11 year old is currently obsessed with horses- but it extends to wanting to draw them and ride them. Not exactly reasearching them. My others have been more marked by those phobias. ( kittens for one, chickens for another). That’s is pretty telling about my family!

  12. When my girls were little, it was mermaids…even to the point of sleeping and walking with crossed ankles in hopes the ankles would fuse into tails…or something to that effect. I must confess that I fueled the obsession…real mermaid tails for swimming from Germany was the ultimate. Mermaids have subsided somewhat, but I guess will always be their first love. It’s all good in my book.

  13. This is my 8-yr-old to a tee. First obsession was Star Wars when he was 5-6. Typical, maybe, but he could name every character down to the most obscure in some series written twenty years ago. He had never seen the movies but could describe them in detail. Then we had a Minecraft phase, then what I can only call the American History phase, particularly about presidents (he could point them out looking at a portrait and when they served and who was their VP and the name of the First Lady…) we are currently in a Pokémon phase broken up by a love of soccer and flags (sparked by watching international soccer games). He’s a hard kid in a lot of ways but his passionate nature is so endearing!

  14. I was going to say that my 5 yr old is definitely an obsessor but as I was mentally tallying it up, I’m thinking maybe he’s mostly a hoarder. But he does tend to hyper focus on one thing at a time (right now it’s Pokemon) – and he is even kind of self aware with it – this summer all the kids were sick and we were trying to find a show/movie they’d all like and I suggested Avatar (the animated series, not the movie) knowing my oldest likes it even though it’s a cartoon and thinking my younger ones would like it – and my 5 yr old refused, tearfully explaining that he didn’t want to risk loving it and moving on to [obsessing about] it and leave behind his current thing.

  15. THat tendency to become obsessed- to dive super deep into things and then to (sometimes seemingly suddenly) move beyond that topic and become obsessed with something else is actually a common characteristic of gifted people (like, higher IQ and all that, but then a lot of out of the box thinking and quirks etc.) I taught that group of students for several years and it was really interesting to see these deep passions flare and sometimes burn out then too.

    That said, I think some of it is personality and sometimes what one is obsessed with is something more…. typical, that we don’t think of it was an obsession (sports in the US comes to mind).

    1. Glad to see you pointed this out, since dedicated interest in particular subjects or objects can be reflective of so many different things, depending on situation, environment, genetics and developmental stage. Often, childhood obsessions are simply natural, comforting areas of deep interest, but there are also cases where the underlying cause is very different. You’ve described what’s been called “intellectual over-excitability”, which is a commonly misunderstood attribute of high ability learners, who can possess an insatiable need to know everything there is to know about a particular issue and can also become quite resistant to traditional segmented learning situations. “Hyperfocus” can also be a feature of ADHD when a task is engaging enough to drown out other stimuli entirely, and autism spectrum disorders are often accompanied by perseveration on specific and idiosyncratic interests. It’s fascinating that people can have such a broad range of experiences that also have so many surface commonalities.

    2. “That said, I think some of it is personality and sometimes what one is obsessed with is something more…. typical, that we don’t think of it was an obsession (sports in the US comes to mind).”

      Such a good observation! I hadn’t thought about sports or teams, but you’re so right. They become such an obsession for so many people.

  16. Does it have anything to do with OCD? Two near and dears I know who have OCD are also ones who dive into a passion. But that’s not a large sample of the population!

    1. I have two very passionate children. One of them has OCD and one does not. OCD has a narrow window of diagnosis, such as fear of germs, hurting self/others, unwanted thoughts. Passion/obsessions would not be linked to OCD unless there is a COMPULSION that accompanies it.

      For more information visit iocdf.org , the website of the International OCD Foundation.

  17. My young five-year-old son has had a few interests that ran deep for brief bursts, but his only real obsession is the color pink. He is passionate about it in all forms! Anytime there is an option to have a pink something, he zeroes right in on it. Being five, he isn’t given options that often, so everything in his life is not pink, but his chosen rain boots for the sandbox at pre-K this year are bright pink. :)

    My daughter’s current “obsession” is with pretending to be a kitty, but she’s only two, so I think it’s just the age of learning to imagine.

    1. My daughter started her obsession pretending to be a dog at about 2. I thought it would be a short phase, but it didn’t fade in intensity until I finally gave in and got her a dog at age 10! (And I’m NOT an animal person!)

    2. Oh yes. My nearly 11 year old has loved pink since he was 3. About the time his sister arrived and brought the influx of pink (against my wishes). In fact, some parents used to harass him about his pink wardrobe. Now? Almost every boy at our school owns and wears pink on a regular basis. Woo hoo for bucking stereotypes!

  18. Horses! My daughter just loved horses as a child and still does. She could name every bone in a horses leg and foot but times tables – forget it. She got to go to one week of horse day camp for her birthday. Her Christmases were filled with Schleich horses and horse books. We could never afford riding lessons and we live downtown so real horses were few and far between. But as a 20 year old, she has found a way to affordably ride. She spends all her spare time at the barn and has started competing in dressage competitions.
    And before horses (and overlapping them too) from about 2.5 years she was obsessed with the Wizard of Oz, she practically had the movie memorized, I read the very long book to her at age 3, she was the Yellow Brick Road for Halloween when she was 3, and over the years she had numerous pairs of red shoes and blue dresses. She was Dorothy, her sister was Toto, I was Auntie Em……

  19. I think about this often- in my family we use the term addiction because so many of the obsessions are drug related but my mom gets hung up on weird things like perrier or smartwool socks. I don’t have that predisposition at all and I hope my baby doesn’t either but my mom is a good example of submersing yourself into healthy things if tou do have it.

  20. My oldest is mega-obsessed with baseball. He doesn’t just love the Dodgers, he knows the stats of everyone, who is on the disabled list and what their family members names are. He says he plans to get a degree in mathematics so he can work for MLB as a statician.

  21. My two year old daughter is obsessed with Cars. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that movie. I now unplug the tv because she figured out the DVD player. She has a lot of the little cars and can name them all. It’s quite impressive for a kid who is still learning to talk. She is not interested with basic matchbox cars. I think it has something to do with the Disney cars being anthropomorphized. If they don’t have eyes, she doesn’t care about them. She plays with them like other girls play with dolls. She designates mamas and babies. They live in a dollhouse. It is an interesting mashup to watch.

    1. Just have to pipe up to say my now 12 yr old daughter was that same @ that age! We had a whole Christmas where she got Cars pajamas, etc. I think she was drawn to it bc the other Disney movies we showed her had a villain that frightened her.

  22. I read an interview of an actor from The Big Bang Theory (can’t remember which one) that said that he truly admires the “nerds” that are portrayed on the show because of the unself-conscious sincerity with which they pursue their interests. I thought that was a very sweet tribute.
    I guess I am “lucky” that that is not my personality type because obsessions would not have been tolerated in my house while growing up. My father couldn’t endure anything that is a frivolous waste of time, attention and money, in his eyes. That kid would have been mercilessly mocked in my house.
    I have truly enjoyed reading the comments on this post– especially those who grew up with obsessed parents! So cool & so funny!

  23. My older son (almost 9) went through a Greek mythology obsession a year or so ago. He devoured kids’ book series related to them (Heroes in Training, Myth-Mania, non fiction books about each of the gods…) and even read the long D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Mythology and the National Geographic Treasury. I’m not sure I knew other 7 year olds reading over 100 page books about Greek mythology. He was Ares for Halloween last year, but we bought a gladiator costume since it looked similar to what he was going for. Then he realized other kids may not know who Ares was, so he just said he was a gladiator :) He was just a bit too young for all the Rick Riordan books, so we’ll see if this obsession gets reignited when he is ready for those.

  24. My son is 3, and he is obsessed with shoes–especially adult’s shoes. Anytime we pass an adult, even strangers, he asks about their shoes. “What are your shoes for? Can they get wet? Are they fancy? Are they work boots?” He especially loves work boots. 😂 And of course he is always begging to wear my shoes and my husband’s shoes.

  25. I definitely had some obsessions as a child. When I was in elementary school, I read every single historical fiction in both the school library and town library (in the children’s/young adult section) by the time I was in 4th grade. At that point, my school library starting ordering and borrowing books just for me. Now I read other books as well, but the historical fiction/historical nonfiction are still my favorites. Outside of books, I think I was just obsessed with history and the past in general. My parents often say that I was the hardest to Christmas/birthday shop for because I would ask for the strangest things, like a buffalo hide shawl or a bonnet, or actual period clothing, etc. They thankfully encouraged it and actually did a great job finding the things I asked for (the buffalo hide shawl ended up having to be a throw that was brown suede on one side and fuzzy on the other- I still use it today).

    1. I’m cracking up at the Buffalo Hide Shawl request. So awesome.

      I don’t think we’ve ever had a gift request from the kids for something that specific and obscure. The most unusual request was maybe from June last Christmas — she asked for a “hiking dressup.” I had no idea what she was picturing, but did my best. : )

  26. My husband is a definite serial-obsessive. Currently it’s bread-making. Every times he moves on, he keeps the old skill and interest in his repertoire, but he’s no longer reading books, buying supplies, listening to podcasts, and reading Reddits about that topic. I didn’t know him yet during his back-country camping phase, and so I’m kind of surprised every time he pulls out some random bit of knowledge or skill about trees or water quality or orienteering. And he is tremendously enthusiastic about my daughter starting Girl Scouts.

    I would say my 5-year-old’s most long-standing quirky interest is human anatomy & biology (she can converse with our friends in the medical field on wound care much, much longer than they probably want to), and my 3 year old has a longstanding love of cats (we don’t have a cat). He keeps a cat-shaped frame with a cat photo in his room that we got at a thrift store, and it may be his most prized possession. He pretends to be a cat at least an hour a day, and this has gone on more than a year.

    1. I fascinated by your story of not meeting your husband until some of his obsessions had already come and gone. I hadn’t thought of that, but of course! I can totally picture it. Y

  27. I was obsessed with The Beatles for several years growing up. I got a few of my friends into them, too. Nothing but happy memories! My daughter went through a panda phase for a couple of years.

    My mom would go through phases of doing various arts and crafts, and she passed that down to me. Mostly I think if it’s something that makes you happy, then go for it. I do have a brother-in-law (grown man with wife and two kids) who does let his obsessions take over his life and as a result he hasn’t held a real job in years, because the mentality of “follow your passion” means that normal, everyday jobs are way too boring and a waste of time to him. His passions have been pirates, ninjas, rock climbing, skateboarding, harp/piano playing, boxing, writing fantasy novels, role playing games, video games, motorcycles, blacksmithing, etc. He just decided he’s into massage now and signed up for a $11,000 course to become licensed, but the whole family is praying he doesn’t lose interest in 6 months like everything else…

  28. My daughter (4) has no specific interests or obsessions, she likes a variety of things and moves between them easily. My son (2), on the other hand, hones in one or two things and that is all he can talk or think about. His current interests are penguins and volcanos. But what I find really interesting is that my daughter will also become interested those things on his behalf. Anytime she sees a penguin she’ll get so excited and run to him so he can see it too. It’s pretty cute.

    For Betty’s obsession… Have you seen the unicorn clothes at Mini Boden this fall?!

  29. As a kid I too was obsessed with unicorns! In fact I kept most of them and my daughter now loves to get them out and look at them. (And let’s not forget Cabbage Patch kids. And stickers. In my trapper keeper. What’s that? Why yes, I am an 80’s kid.)

    My son has been obsessed with: Cars, Star Wars, Dinosaurs, Trains, Pokemon, and Lego. Mostly Lego. It comes and goes and just when I think we’re past it, he asks for more Lego sets. They are taking over my house…

    My husband is totally obsessed with sports and has been since he was around 5. He can remember stats about the Denver Broncos from the 80’s but forget what day his own birthday is. He will watch ANY sport that’s on – badminton, table tennis, track and field, Australian rules football, etc etc. His fist love is NFL football though.

    My daughter is similar to my hubby, but dolls are her thing. American Girl particularly. Luckily we don’t live near a store and my MIL loves sewing doll clothes so she’s set for life. The doll stuff is competing with the Legos for space.

    I’m more like my son, I’m a flitter. Photography, scrapbooking, quilting, gardening. I never seem to let a passion go, I just hyper focus on one or another at different times. (It’s quilting/sewing right now.)

  30. My kids definitely do this, and we have always tried to be as supportive as we feasibly could (i.e., did not see OBC Hamilton, but bought a stuffed Daveed Diggs doll for her Easter basket). Most if their passions have been really cool, like guitars, running, book series, history, etc. I will say that it can be a little embarrassing when you’re with other people who aren’t familiar with the passion – at my daughter’s 5th birthday party there was an old Forest Service helicopter. All the other girls were flying to castles and the beach; mine made her brother lie down in the back so she could “med vac him out of Nam.” We had been watching a series of war documentaries. :)

  31. My daughter is three and is currently obsessed with Spider-Man. We don’t know how long it will last, but we’re indulging it to the point of madness: hello Spider-Man doll, t-shirt, socks, and costume! Not to mention the Spider-Man shoes, t-shirt, rollerskates, and Spider-Man bear courtesy of her aunts!

  32. TEETH. Except the child was me… my father fostered all of my obsessions over the years but they haven’t been typical. And like most kids, I still think of all those obsessions quite fondly. My father kept all of my teeth in little coin envelopes. He would sit me down and ask me to draw on it, incorporating the date. Then the Tooth Fairy would come get it from under my pillow and leave me a dollar coin. Later after my last tooth fell out he denied ever having them, but he’s always been an avid stamp and coin collector so it was a pretty obvious connect the dots there. Years later I’m in college studying to be a dental assistant. Home for Christmas and my dad hands me a present, sure enough it was a fancy cigar box full of all the teeth, safely protected in their little envelopes! Coolest gift ever. I have accumulated several different collections of teeth since then including my dog’s canine that had to be pulled, a jar full of extracted teeth from the dental office I used to work in and my grandmother’s dentures. It’s weird. I know… but apparently it’s been something I’ve always loved since a child.

  33. My oldest child, who is almost eight now, is 100% this- we always describe him as “passionate.”

    For YEARS, it was vacuums. He got his dream vacuum for his fifth birthday, even. (We use it all the time! Turns out he has great taste in vacuums.) He brought a vacuum to show and tell for three years in a row, he named his vacuums, he could tell you how they worked and why one was better than the other. This lasted from age 2 until age 7 when the vacuum obsession started to shift toward rally car racing, which is pretty obscure here in the US!

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