“PAK-ee-SEF-uh-lo-SAWR-us,” our three-year-old son enunciates proudly.
He’s correcting me, yet again, for mispronouncing the name of the Pachycephalosaurus, one of his favourite dinosaurs. It’s a frequent occurrence in our household.
Before becoming a parent, I was quite content with my limited knowledge of palaeontology, as well as the triassic, jurassic and cretaceous periods. Beyond the almighty Tyrannosaurus Rex of my childhood, did I really need to know the characteristics of each and every single dinosaur? No. Yet by virtue of wanting to be a supportive parent, I am becoming a reluctant dino expert too.
In the last two months, we have roared at mechanical dinosaurs at Jurassic Forest, driven three hours southeast of Edmonton to check out fossils at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and watched far too much of the six-part documentary series, Walking with Dinosaurs.
While dinosaurs may be the quirky interest of choice in our house, I know we are not alone in navigating this phase. Look no further than the kids in the grocery store dressed as superheroes, the toddlers who can rattle off the names of sports teams or players, or a two-year-old boy named Thomas, who has an unusual fascination with vacuums.
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So what’s it all about?
Obsessions with specific things or interests help toddlers feel secure, according to Blythe Lipman, the author of Help! My Toddler Came Without Instructions: Practical Tips for Parenting a Happy One, Two, Three and Four Year Old.
“The world is so big. It gives them a routine. It makes them comfortable. And you know, toddlers are all about me, me, me, me — so it puts them in control,” Lipman said. “It’s one more thing that they are in charge of.”
Lipman says these infatuations also act as a kind of social icebreaker for toddlers. For example, her grandson is currently fascinated by Thomas the train. Lipman recently overheard him at a birthday party asking a friend if he had a Thomas train.
“And they start talking. So it also helps with the friendship deal because they both have things that they know in common and they love it.”
Lipman encourages parents to speak with their paediatrician if the infatuation becomes extreme and their toddler can’t be redirected to other interests. Otherwise, she says, set limits that work for your family (maybe you don’t want the Batman costume at school, for example).
“Go with it. Let them enjoy. And you know what’s really funny? Ask them questions,” Lipman said.
“Ask them why they are vacuuming or say, ‘You look like a ballerina. Tell me why you’re a ballerina.’ Or, ‘Do you like pink?’ It’s really fun to engage and take pictures and write down what they say. Not because when they go to prom and you want to post it on Facebook, but you know, what as parents we do forget. You think you are going to remember everything. The things these little ones do are so cute and amazing. They are so smart.”
Lipman says toddlers typically grow out of their obsessions around kindergarten as they are introduced to more children and a wider variety of interests.
That gives our son two more years to learn the names of the rest of the dinosaurs, their characteristics and eating habits. And just in time for a new fascination or intense interest, maybe I’ll finally be able to say Pachycephalosaurus.
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