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The Debate: Toy Obsessions

Early last month, Arlington Dad asked:

"What's the deal with the Lego obsession? My six-year-old boy lives and breathes Legos. He gets up and plays Legos, comes to breakfast with a handful of Legos, then talks about Legos at breakfast. He comes home from school, and before he goes to play with his Legos, he tells me about the Legos his friends at school discussed."

I've seen friends' kids obsessed with Thomas trains, Disney princesses, trucks, Spider-Man and Pokemon. I know of one child who could tell you the instruments played in Tom Chapin songs. My nephew has the most complex setup of poker that I've ever seen. We used to call my eldest puzzle king -- until he switched from puzzles to Legos.

So, what IS the deal with kids and their obsessions? Is this only a phenomenon of younger kids or do the obsessions remain as they get older? What fun -- or not so fun -- ones have you seen?

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By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 27, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  The Debate
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I'm not sure "obsessions" is actually the word you want to use.

It's a well-documented fact that most kids with Asperger's have an Obsession/perseverative interest in a particular topic. The difference between a healthy obsession and the Asperger variety is usually based on whether there's any reciprocity and/or ability to disconnect and talk about something else. Thomas the Train, in particular, is an obsession for many Asperger's children. But kids with that type of interest may have trouble talking about any other topic, may literally have to carry a train around all day, may have a lot of rituals revolving around their particular interest. IN short, it can be a crutch getting in the way of normal, healthy social development.

(This coming from a lady who made a mad dash across town yesterday based on a rumor that they'd gotten Webkinz in at a local store. got there to find a throng of crying children and a distraught shopkeeper who informed us that yes, they had gotten a shipment of FIVE webkinz in, and had more than one hundred people who wanted them. They're now being rationed in our area -- obsessions indeed.)

Posted by: Armchair Mom | April 27, 2007 8:07 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: Anonymous | April 27, 2007 8:31 AM | Report abuse

My experience is that this happens to the younger child - around 4 or 5, then tapers off. My oldest was pokemon obsessed - cards and game boy. Drove me nuts. My youngest was all baby dolls, all the time. She couldn't get enough. They still enjoy their 'obsessions' today - at 6 & 9, but are certainly less crazed about it.

BTW, we are taking a trip to the local Hallmark today to see what Webkins are available! Wish us luck!

Posted by: prairie dog | April 27, 2007 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Duh! How about putting away the objects of obsession for a while?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 27, 2007 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Come on
Toy obsession........................
Whats the next topic candy obsession
Children are children are children
They are heads of cabbage folks- the parent is in charge of molding this person.
Spoiling a child is just that- our community is about consumption and showing that we can consume. Thats ok I am all for it but stop these rediculous topics and call it what it is.
All kids are obsessed with what they see on TV - ration the TV you will ration the triggers that keep your child yelling "mommy I want that"- say no when you are at the toy store- reward effort and good behavior instead of just the urge to give becaause you had to go to work all week and think your child missed out on parental bonding and love!!!! GIVE it a rest. Your little lovey will turn 13 and all this want want want will turn into verbal volley ball about the rules and regulations you set before them- Toys wont matter anymore just if he or she gets there way....

Posted by: 4444 | April 27, 2007 9:01 AM | Report abuse

i can tell you from experience that the lego obsession will not die. i have, in the basement of my house, as i write this, a dresser drawer full of legos which my "children" (ages 28, 24, 19) have asked me to keep, ostensibly for their children (some day...)
last year, i came home one night and my youngest had built a village with her friend--both of them are in college. legos are eternal...

Posted by: pr in ATL | April 27, 2007 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Knowing about Aspergers is important, not a ZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Posted by: Fo3 | April 27, 2007 9:06 AM | Report abuse


I think your are missing the point, it isn't about kids begging parents for the toys, but playing with them constantly once they have them.
My sons love their Thomas toys, but they don't want, want, want, all they want to do is build all kinds of crazy tracks and run their trains over them, they could care less about getting any more, and they haven't gotten any trains for more than two years, they just love to play.

Posted by: Chris | April 27, 2007 9:08 AM | Report abuse

children loving to play is a good thing. it's a normal thing. wanting to play all the time with the same beloved toys is also good and normal. there's really no problem here. the question posed was "what is it with kids and their obsessions," and i would turn it around and ask "what is it with anyone (parent, kid, human) and their obsessions?" this is sort of a non-issue for normal, healthy people.

Posted by: pr in atl | April 27, 2007 9:12 AM | Report abuse

4444, it doesn't seem like you really got the point of the blog. She's not talking about a kid who's desperate to have whatever the latest toy craze is. She's talking about the way kids get fixated for long periods on one thing -- in her son's case, first puzzles, and then Legos. Both of those are lovely, classic toys, hardly the stuff of tv-addicted children.

Some people just look for any excuse, however flimsy, to blame any less-than-Leave-It-To-Beaver-perfect behavior on bad parenting. Sometimes it is just kids being kids!

Most of them grow out of it, I think. It almost strikes me as being a reaction to their brains finally having developed enough for them to explore something more deeply. Just like toddlers repeatedly drop toys from their crib or high chair to learn how gravity works (and how many times they can get Mom to pick it up), I wonder if the fixation phase is a learning process, the brain trying out new concepts and abilities.

Posted by: To 4444 | April 27, 2007 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Not everythying is about kids being spoiled and parents not setting limits (serious problems though they are). It seems to me that both boys and girls can become obsessed w/toys, but it does seem to be a more common thing with boys. My 2 boys (who watch NO TV and buy most of their own toys with a very small allowance) and their friends are obsessed with pokemon and bionicle. I was getting worried about my older son who is 11. I figured he would have grown out of it, but my husband tells me it's perfectly normal. He was the same way with comic books when he was a kid. It seems to be the modern day equivalent of the boys who were obsessed w/baseball and knew all the stats for all the teams and players back in the day.
I'm not sure what drives these fixations which are both annoying and amusing. However, I have seen that quite often these things do a better job of getting kids to develop skills like reading, basic math, planning, strategizing and such than any school work ever could. Both of my boys have "books" they are writing which revolve around their obsessions. Not such a bad thing. It does seem to be part of the human make-up during childhood though. Even people from other cultres can often tell you about what they were obsessed with while growing up.
No need to take away the toys (for the most part) or berate parents over it. Just part of the human condition it seems.

Posted by: rebeccat | April 27, 2007 9:22 AM | Report abuse

awwwww..... I miss the days of hearing my sons digging thru their bins of legos and building new and creative things. Enjoy it now!

Posted by: C.W. | April 27, 2007 9:24 AM | Report abuse

My oldest is 5. Starting at around 2, he became interested in Thomas the Tank Engine and all things having to do with trains. To this day, he wants to play with his Thomas collection. He'll build elaborate tracks, gather miscellaneous items from around the house to make the Island of Sodor and play for hours alone or with others. He makes up stories and really enjoys himself. I wouldn't say he is obsessed .. he has other interests and certainly talks about those as well but Thomas and trains, in general, are his favorite.

Posted by: MOMto3 | April 27, 2007 9:32 AM | Report abuse

"4444, it doesn't seem like you really got the point of the blog. She's not talking about a kid who's desperate to have whatever the latest toy craze is. "

Then what exactly is the point of the topic if this is normal behavior?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 27, 2007 9:34 AM | Report abuse

The point of the topic? It's normal behavior, sure, but it can still drive a parent crazy! How do you set limits? How do you get the boy to put the Legos down and put on his socks?

Posted by: Arlington Dad | April 27, 2007 9:43 AM | Report abuse

What could be better? Legos are about creativity, problem solving, logic ("I need to put this piece here first before I can put the other one on"), fine motor skills, and I'm sure a few more positive traits.

And what's wrong with passion?

It's far better thing than a twitch game like GameBoy.

You have the beginnings of an engineer on your hands. Don't disparage it.

Posted by: Ollabelle | April 27, 2007 9:47 AM | Report abuse

enjoy it! it is better than PS2 addiction, which I confronted my older son (normally very responsible and luckily vocal). He says it is what they talk about at school and in order to be good at it, one has to play it enough. He says that since he does his homework, brings home good grades and plays sports, he should be allowed the time to get good at this since this will allow him to make friends at school.
we realized my younger one wanted the latest toys (he got only a fraction of what he asked for) only to be able to talk about it at school since he is a very social kid.
In my opinion, playing wiht legos gives kids a good sense of color and allows them to manipulate small object -good for motor and sensory skills. To deflect this, take him somewhat enroll him in a sport, shoot hoops at the court, take an afternoon off ice skating with the promise he can get back to his legos upon return.

Posted by: Momof2bteen | April 27, 2007 9:50 AM | Report abuse

I guess I'm just not as sensitive as many of the other parents on this blog. (But do I need to sensitive when I'm so FAMOUS for being quoted and providing a topic?!)

I know the "obsession" is normal, and I'm not trying to disparage it at all. The kid puts his Legos away when I tell him (except for maybe a few small pieces in his pocket) and he plays outside and does all the stuff any 6 year old boy does.

But I also don't think we need to say everything out little darlings do is wonderful, perfect, and an indicator of future greatness.

Posted by: Arlington Dad | April 27, 2007 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Where is the Debate?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 27, 2007 10:27 AM | Report abuse

I don't know if these obsessions are healthy or not, medically or psychologically speaking. I'm just glad to hear that other kids have them. My 6 year old has developed the granddaddy of all obsessions--Legos meets Star Wars!! He has so many SW ships, droids, etc. all made of legos (and not from a kit mind you) in his room and in the basement that he runs out of legos to play with. I love that he is being so creative but when he has friends over he won't let them touch the legos and he just wants to discuss them. Talk about ZZZZZZZ for a parent. He also gets out the massive SW dictionary and can talk about SW with his friends forever! Overall it is hilarious to me and just slightly outweighs it being annoying.

Posted by: starwarsmom | April 27, 2007 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Arlington Dad: Your answer made me laugh. I, too, often have difficulty getting my Lego-loving boy to eat, get dressed, go to bed, etc. because I'm interfering with his Lego building.

And folks, it's Friday. I thought we could use a light topic about a very normal behavior and have a fun conversation. My own theory, and I couldn't find research to back it up (anyone know of any?), is that young children like to feel like they are "experts" in something. So, they pick an interest and learn everything they can about it.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | April 27, 2007 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Starwarsmom -- my six-year-old has the Star Wars passion too! He talks about Star Wars all the time. Star Wars must be a huge topic among the boys at school, because my son has never seen a Star Wars movie and doesn't have any of the toys -- but he can still talk about all the characters!

Posted by: Arlington Dad | April 27, 2007 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Well, as the parent of a kid who still plays with Legos and robots--and is graduating from MIT in a few weeks--I think that some toys just mesh with a kid's personality, and that when they find those toys it's like finding the right job for an adult; they just feel awfully good when they play with them.

My daughter used to create elaborate screenplays for her stuffed animals. Now she's writing plays for adults. Hmmm.

Posted by: DMD77 | April 27, 2007 11:10 AM | Report abuse

My kids are all grown up now. One was quite crazy about anything you could build with and anything action oriented-cars, trucks, trains- the whole 9 yards. We had a fair collection of building toy sets, too. Blocks, legos, and all. Well, he grew up to be a civil engineer. Another child was obsessed- really obsessed- with hippos. And in fact animals of alll sorts but hippos especially. Fish came in there too. And cats for pets. So what became of her? Oh, she went on to college, majored in biology and ocean science and a masters in natural resources and a job with a scientific research company. And a large collection of hippos. I used to work for a company that make electronics devices for railroads. There were guys there who were train nuts. You could see it in their eyes. Inside was a little boy who was thrilled to be working at a real job where he got to "play with trains". Some folks are lucky enough to be able to take their childhood love, develop it into a passion, and find a way to make a living at it.

Posted by: Kathy | April 27, 2007 11:19 AM | Report abuse

"young children like to feel like they are "experts" in something. So, they pick an interest and learn everything they can about it."

Stacy, I think that's it. My 3 1/2-year-old has gone through a couple of obsessions. For a (loooong) while, it was dinosaurs. Dinosaur toys, dinosaur books, dinosaur clothes. He learned all their names and wanted to know how big they were, what they ate, etc. Now he's moved on to superheroes (and villains). He got one of those "seek 'n' find" books (kind of like "Where's Waldo?") with a superhero theme, and he's trying to memorize all of their names and all of their powers.

I think it's pretty cute, and I can't wait to see what his next obsession will be. I suppose I could be a type-A parent and try to direct his obsessions to things that might be more germane to his eventual schooling (e.g., it might come in handy if he could memorize all 50 states, their capitals, location, big cities, etc.), but I'd just as soon see what catches his fancy all on its own.

Posted by: 22180 | April 27, 2007 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Lego socks!

Posted by: m | April 27, 2007 11:43 AM | Report abuse

If you keep buying the stuff they are obsessed about you are creating the problem. Why not buy them a variety of toys? I can't understand the obsession with Barbies. She looks like a transvestite to me.

BTW, I used to date a steam train enthusiast. They are called 'ferroequinologists' and meet weekly, collect train memorabilia, take steam train trips to the mountains in the fall. My friend carried a camera in the car JUST IN CASE we passed a train somewhere. He wrote books about trains. Groups of grown men stand along the train tracks waiting for trains to go by. Talk about an obsession.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 27, 2007 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Lego obsession?
This doesn't always go away. My husband still has it, and is in his 30s. Little kids obsessed with building toys and become men who are obsessed with the same building toys become...
Shop teachers.
And basically just transition to the larger, more complicated versions of the same things. And yes, will still love to go back to the old ones.
I've noticed that lots of kids so-called "Obsessions" can transition to a career if motivated properly. Especially if they can be educational in nature.

Posted by: preggers | April 27, 2007 11:58 AM | Report abuse

I'm married to a Civil War nut, er buff; he owns thousands of books related to the Civil War & guns,attends a 3 day Civil War reenactment every year and plays soldier (heroe)every chance he gets.

It all started with his Civil War toy soldiers he played with as a kid.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 27, 2007 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and to build on my previous comment, when I was a kid I might have been considered destructive. I felt compelled to find out how things worked (so took them apart). I also had a weird habit of taking random things and mixing them to "see what would happen". Fortunately, no toxic gas clouds were made, just lots of kitchen and bathroom messes.
My parents gave me broken appliances (toasters, phones) to take apart and examine, let me go thru all the parts when they cleaned seafood, and eventually bought me a series of chemistry sets.

I became a chemist. I think a healthy obsession is a good thing.

Posted by: preggers | April 27, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

I'm grown but have an incurable obsession with collecting recipes, cookbooks, and knitting patterns. I have more cookbooks and patterns than I can use in 10 lifetimes. I went through a stage of collecting yarn, too, but have eventually worked my way through some of it with knitting projects. I have no idea why since I wasn't especially interested in these things as a child. In fact, I learned to knit as an adult, didn't know how when I was a kid.

I also find it extremely difficult to get rid of books -- they start taking over the house and it's wretching to clear them out and donate to the library or used book store. Just an natural pack-rat, I guess.

Posted by: Pattern junkie | April 27, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I, too, am married to a train nut. We went to Canada for uur honeymoon 30 years ago and all of our pictures are of trains! He has piles of layout books and subscribes to train magazines, yet he has never build a layout.

For about 2 years when my daughter was young, all she wanted to do was paint. Santa brought her a package of paints and paper one Christmas and she spent the entire holiday at her table painting. Fell asleep at the table.

Older child fell in love with Anne of Green Gables. Wanted to name her first child Morilla. Fortunately that one passed.

Passionate people have passionate interest...I wouldn't call them obsessions. Just roll with it.

Posted by: Balto | April 27, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

My stepdaughter is obsessed with my computer. She's only 4, but her mother has given her her own Mac laptop at home to play Dora games on. Now she NEVER wants to leave the house, go to the park, take a walk, etc anymore because she's convinced that if she stays stubborn, I'll give on and let her play on my computer. I've had to set aside "computer time", about 15 minutes, which is mostly watching animal clips on YouTube, or playing one round of a Diego game. She still tries to bully us into letting her play on the computer ALL the time, but we've been dealing with this type of thing for a long time, and she usually gives in after a month or so.

Posted by: Kat | April 27, 2007 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I adored animals, like many little girls. My fisrt word was 'DOG!'. And yes, I am a veterinarian.

I was obsessed with anything animal-related.

My kid brother was one of those baseball nut kids (we were kids in the late 70's). He now coaches baseball at a large local university.

I think kids' obsessions can lead, as many have typed, to their future lives. I know I wouldn't want to be anything other than a vet, and brother still loves baseball....

Posted by: Caroline | April 27, 2007 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Is the Lego kid the one who sucks his thumb while playing with his private parts 24/7?

Some feat!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 27, 2007 1:37 PM | Report abuse

While you have to set some limits (whether it's on buying the stuff, or on playing with the stuff 24/7), in general I think it's good to roll with the punches on these things. As others have commented, some of these passions turn into grown-up pursuits. Others don't (there aren't nearly as many paleontologists as there are dinosaur-obsessed preschoolers). Regardless, the kids are learning how to learn - that it's fun to become an expert in something. More than tolerating it, I think parents should respect the current obsession the same way they do hobbies of adult friends & family. You might not let your spouse or your brother talk forever about an interest you don't share, but you probably don't make fun of it either. It's part of respecting the child for his/her unique individuality. Teach them early that you are receptive to hearing what they want to tell you - it will stand you in good stead as they get older.

Posted by: otterb | April 27, 2007 2:09 PM | Report abuse

When my oldest son was 2 years old, he would take a stick and beat a tree for hours. Maybe when he's old enough to play the drums, I'll sign him up.

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 27, 2007 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I think it's really common with kids because it's ALL new to them, and they find something shiny and new and "get it" so they want to dig in as much as possible.

And really, I see it happen just as often with adults, we just tend to have more of them, and they are pricier so we don't have as much of it. We all have our "toys" whether they are cars, books, movies, coins, stamps, costumes, boats, whips, ropes, etc.

Otterb- great observation on the dino obsessed kids vs paleontologists

Posted by: Liz D | April 27, 2007 3:43 PM | Report abuse

My son, 34, just loved playing with legos as a youngster. He and his brother sat for hours building and creating. Now my son is the parent of a 3 year old boy. Now they play legos together daily. This wish to create and build never grows old, just continues on with a newer generation. Good fun, I think.

Posted by: Linda | April 27, 2007 6:18 PM | Report abuse

A Legos "obsession" (I'm betting the word is too strong for this situation) is probably a good thing. You might have a budding engineer or architect there.
I wouldn't worry.

Posted by: anonymous | May 2, 2007 3:21 PM | Report abuse

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