The toddler brain is made to take comfort in repetition.  Repetition helps a toddler feel safe and secure.  It can bring comfort to them.  This is why they like to watch the same shows over and over, or read the same book before bedtime every single night.  Whereas as adults it makes us want to pull our hair out, it gives the child a sense of security and routine.  It helps them make sense out of a very hectic world that they have very little control in. 

Which is why when it comes to their playtime they may become very fixated or obsessed with a certain thing or character.  This could be a character, animal, or color.  Your child may only ever want to play with cars, or trains.  Your child may want to pretend they are a dog and crawl around and bark at everything.  This single-minded play is completely normal in their development. 


Brain Development

A toddler’s brain is developing, and during this phase of obsession and fixation it can help bring them comfort as well as help them learn through repetitive play.  As their brain develops your child will have more interests and more things that they hold dear to them.  The single-minded play peaks during ages 3 and 4 when your child starts to have an imagination.

Their imagination allows them to be able to pretend that they are something else, instead of just seeing things they liked before.  Your two year old may have loved seeing dogs walk around your neighborhood.  Once their imagination starts they can start pretending they are a dog, crawling around, barking, sniffing things, and carrying things around in their mouths.  Pretending is another way your child learns how to express themselves.  Roaring like hulk when they are mad, helps them let out anger in a safe way they have seen imitated before in a show.  

When your child wants to play the same thing over and over it is a way of creative play.  They have control of the play because they know what will happen.  Along with repetitive play they can try out new things to see how cause and effect happens.  This is an important thing children have to learn.  

If your child goes to a daycare they may see other children playing with specific things, and children imitate what they see.  So if all the children at daycare play with trains, your child is likely to want to play with trains as well.  Latching onto a character, thing, or animal can also help your child bond with other kids.  If your child sees another boy at the park with a car shirt on, when he is wearing a car shirt too they already have something in common which makes them feel more approachable and safe.  


Use Obsessions & Fixations To Foster Growth

Use your child’s obsessions to help teach new things, or promote healthy good behavior.  If your child is all about a certain character, finding a toothbrush with that character on it, may help get your child more excited about brushing their teeth.  Find books about your child’s interests to get them more excited about reading.  When ready to potty train, find a potty book with their character on it, or pull ups that have their favorite character on them.  

There are times when wearing a costume, or being on all fours crawling around like an animal is not appropriate.  Setting boundaries for these times first and foremost is important so you don’t have constant battles in the future.  Letting your child know they can wear their superhero costume as much as they want at home, but can’t be worn to church established first can help. 

Never try to change your child’s obsessions.  Let them last as long as they like.  Usually normal fixations start to fade around kindergarten or first grade.  Go along with their obsession.  It can help you bond with your child, if you start to play and pretend along with them. 

Continue to introduce new things to your child.  Just because they love cars does not mean they can only ever love cars, and you shouldn’t introduce them to construction vehicles as well.  If your child loves tigers, introduce them to other big cats.  Adding in new things that relate to their main focus can help them learn and appreciate new things.  


Developmental Warning Signs

Single-minded playing can have some red flags you should watch out for.  Most of the time single-minded play is normal obsessions.  If you notice your child isn’t developing socially, having trouble relating to other children, has extreme repetitive behavior, or their obsession is affecting daily function it may be time to talk to your pediatrician. 

Obsessive compulsive disorder is not just for adults.  It can affect children as well.  Sometimes signs can start as early as 3 years of age.  Some signs a toddler may present are obsessions such as things that seem wrong or out of place, or things aren’t straight, even, or arranged just so. 

Compulsions a toddler may show are repeating words or phrases over and over a certain time to themselves.  They may also include you into this by getting you to say things to them a certain amount of times.  Another compulsive attitude is having to arrange things over and over.  Or they may need things to be done the same way every time they are done.  This could mean picking toys up has to be done in the same order each time, just so.  

Obsessive behavior can also be a sign of Autism spectrum syndrome.  Usually obsessive behavior goes along with other symptoms.  If a child is having trouble bonding with their parents.  They don’t show any joy when their parents play or interact with them.  A child may struggle making eye contact with other people.  Sensory sensitivities with sound or touch can also be another sign. 



Single-minded play and obsessive fixation in toddlers is a normal phase of development.  Normal obsessions are usually completely harmless.  Interests your child has in this stage may show you parts of their personality.  It can help your child feel safe and secure to have one thing they focus on in a chaotic world where they don’t have much control.  


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