Son is Intensely Persistent about New Toys, Addictive Personality?
Dear Dr. Markham,
My son is almost five years old and his intense persistence is coming to the fore (as evidenced by recent battles over snacks where he insists on having six cookies and I must hold firm ground at a smaller number because I know it's beyond his limit). He can be so very tenacious! I think I am dealing with that okay by standing firm but supportive through the tears, and reminding him that we can both be flexible until we reach agreement somewhere in the middle.
What concerns me a bit is an emerging behavior pattern where he decides he needs a particular toy (often inspired by his love of dinosaurs and wanting to have his own model for each new species he is infatuated with, or simply something he has seen passing by in a store or at a friend's house), and yearns VERY intensely for that toy. He becomes almost obsessed with it, talking about it all the time. With his birthday coming up, I have tried to help him learn patience and anticipation by creating a wish list for family to get him the specific things he really wants. We also talk often about how much things cost and how money can be tight, saving his allowance, etc. If and when he does get something he has been wishing for, he is euphoric about it and plays intensely with it. But it seems so short-lived, as he shifts focus within a couple days to a new infatuation. And this cycle seems to be getting shorter and shorter.
On the one hand, I admire my son for his passion and for knowing exactly what he wants. But on the other, I have to wonder how I can help him to be more satisfied with the things he has and to live in the moment vice constantly yearning for what he doesn't have. Are these precursors of an addictive personality, and if so, is there some way to help him tone it down? Could it be a sign that there is something he is struggling with and trying to shield himself by focusing on consumerism? I would welcome any thoughts you might have on what might be going on here.
Your son is an intense person who tends to fixate and pursue what he wants, and that quality will serve him well in life. He's still young, though, so he thinks that material possessions are worth pursuing. To him, they aren't just toys. They are part of his identity (for instance, as a dinosaur expert.)
So all of this could be within the range of normal for a child his age. BUT the constant yearning says to me that this may be a child who is feeling some intense need that he can't express. Another hypothesis is that he has some unpleasant feelings locked away, and these little obsessions distract him from those feelings. We have all seen that happen with adults, who obsess about the next perfect pair of shoes or the next perfect boyfriend, to distract themselves from their deeper fears that they aren't good enough.
The cure for that is daily preventive maintenance, meaning laughing and crying. Do you have my book? It explains all this and I think might really help. You can purchase it here.
Dr. Laura Markham