“My son is 10 and obsessed over things – ESPECIALLY dinosaurs. Once, when we brought him to a history museum showcasing dinosaurs, he even managed to correct one model of a dinosaur that had been labelled incorrectly. I didn’t take much notice at first, but a few days after the museum sent us a letter thanking him for being so observant. They told him to continue pursuing his keen interest in paleontology! I am so proud of him!”
Does this sound familiar, parents?
This is actually what happened to Charlie, a 10-year-old UK boy. Like him, numerous children all over the world also have a keen passion for dinosaurs.
Most children are so keen on gaining knowledge on certain topics that they’ve become experts in that field on their own.
For example a child keen on dinosaurs can easily name over 10 species accurately, list their diet, how their life was like and the time they died. Us adults, on the other hand, can barely name two dinosaurs, if we’re lucky.
“My child obsessed over things, sometimes dinosaurs and astronomy. Now she’s into chemistry and science.” | Image Source: Stock Photo
“Intense interests” during childhood
Psychology has given a name to this natural behavior responsible for in-depth knowledge kids have of, for instance, dinosaurs. It’s called “intense interests”: a powerful, driving motivation to learn everything there is to know about a certain topic.
Kids will experience this “intense interests” phase usually when they are between two- to six-years-old.
For some kids, their intense interests carry over into adulthood, sometimes even becoming their profession. These are the people who are very persistent in their passions. So much so that their passions have become a direction for life and safe space over the years.
Intense interests are not limited to studying dinosaurs. In fact, intense interests can take many forms, such as astronomy (“I know what that constellation is, mommy!”), planes, trains, animals and more.
The subject of your child’s passion isn’t important. Rather, it is the commitment and effort that kids devote to the area they love, and the burning passion for it which they experience that matters.
The benefits of intense interests in childhood, according to psychology
Researchers once investigated these intense interests at the University of Indiana and Wisconsin. They confirmed that they were very beneficial to the child’s intellectual development.
Psychologists have found numerous benefits to intense interests in kids. These include:
- being richly knowledgeable about the topic at hand
- boosting the child’s ability to persevere
- sharpening their attention
- improving skills of elaborate thinking, as well as processing information.
- massively boosting linguistic capabilities, and may point towards a deep understanding of the subject.
According to psychologists, how kids pursue and study their intense interests is a reflection of their problem solving skills.
Namely, the way a kid pursues an intense interest shows exactly the same way they’ll respond to new situations and challenges as they grow up. Children will need to ask questions and seek answers independently, only requesting for help if necessary.
Thus, intense interests are able to set kids up for life’s challenges, as they won’t accept a superficial understanding of things but explore deeper.
These intense interests give them the chance to adopt a different perspective, think deeply about how to reach their goal, find relationships and ultimately, independently guide their own learning based on self-motivation.
If my child obsessed over things, why don’t they continue their intense interests at adulthood?
“My kids obsessed over things in the past, but they’ve stopped now. Why?” Researchers find that school hampers intense interests – until they eventually abandon them altogether. | Image Source: Stock Photo
Psychologists from the universities of Virginia and Yale also analyzed these intense interests. They found out that these intense interests don’t appear to come from, or are influenced by the parent’s interests.
Unfortunately, the same analysis also reveals that a child’s intense interests generally last from one year up to three years. By the time children reach adulthood, only 20% of them will have the same burning passion to discover more about their intense interest. Much of the time, a child’s enthusiasm for intense interests disappears with schooling.
Scientists have discovered that when kids begin studying in school, they:
- lack free time (compared to pre-schooling) to commit for their “investigations”.
- know that schools demand extensive knowledge from many subjects which are rushed and not as deep. Most of the time, since their interests don’t match with the school curriculum, kids ultimately cast aside their intense interests.
How to encourage a pursuit of intense interests?
Absolutely not, parents. Not all hope is lost – you can play the role of a teacher at home.
Knowing the benefits of intense interests, parents can further cultivate that enthusiasm at home. In particular, parents should ensure that:
- their child has enough free time to continue pursuing and understanding deeply the subject of her intense interest
- and to support their kids in finding connections between their intense interests and whatever knowledge they may gained form subjects in class.
To end, Jeff Bezos puts a memorable quote about an individual’s passion:
“One of the huge mistakes people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves. You don’t choose your passions; your passions choose you.”
Has your child obsessed over things in the past? How about now? Have any thoughts? Share them in the comment sections below!
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