There comes a time in a child’s development when they seem to get very specific obsessions. Whether it’s dinosaurs, garbage trucks or planes, children often go through a period of time when they have a one-track mind and seem fascinated by a particular subject.
It turns out, scientists have a name for this phenomenon. They’re called “intense interests.” The phase usually strikes between the ages of 2 and 6, and almost a third of all children have one at some point. The most common objects of their devotion include modes of transportation like planes, trains, cars, as well as dinosaurs.
While you may be scratching your head at why your kid seems so obsessed with prehistoric creatures or vehicles, it’s actually quite normal and may even be beneficial.
Paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara loved dinosaurs as a kid and carried that passion into adulthood. He says parents tell him all the time about their children’s obsession with dinosaurs, and Lacovara has a theory about where they come from.
“I think for many of these children, that’s their first taste of mastery, of being an expert in something and having command of something their parent or coach or doctor doesn’t know,” he tells The Cut. “It makes them feel powerful. Their parent may be able to name three or four dinosaurs and the kid can name 20, and the kid seems like a real authority.”
And science says he’s not far off. A 2008 study showed that kids with intense interests develop increased knowledge and persistence, an improved attention span and better information-processing skills.
As kids age and begin to learn more about a variety of topics, particularly at school, their deep obsessions tend to begin to fade. This, too, is normal.
“It’s not a quick drop-off, like, ‘Oh, now I hate dinosaurs,’” says Elizabeth Chatel, a marriage and family therapist in Norwalk, Connecticut. “It’s just that life gets busy and the world opens up, and other interests start to engage them.”
So if your child is exhibiting an intense interest, there’s nothing to worry about. In fact, it just might make them a better learner!
[h/t The Cut]