It is normal for a young child to become attached to a particular item. As someone once said “You can’t get enough of a good thing.”

For some children, it is a toy, such as a tractor or train. For others, it might be a special outfit or a cup. For some, it is reading a particular book over and over or singing a song repetitively.

Attachments are often normal behavior
The reason for this seeming obsession is that developmentally a toddler is trying to gain independence and control over his or her behavior and environment. Children of this age may sometime seem to withdraw into their own world and become self-absorbed with a particular idea or item. Having something upon which they focus or with which they feel comfortable gives them that sense of control and security as they move out toward more independence.

How do you know when the behavior becomes a problem?
The behavior may become a problem when an interest in tractors prevents your child from other experiences. An interest turns into an obsession, in the negative sense of the word, when the need to have or to play with that item is something the child feels he must have or do, even though it may cause your child to feel bad. For example, a child with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) will wash his hands over and over again, not to enjoy the water play as some children do, but because the child feels that he or she “must” wash, even though the child’s chapped hands hurt. Children who suffer from this disorder may stack blocks and knock them down over and over again, wanting to stop, but feeling powerless to do so. At this point, the item or behavior has control over the child, not the other way around. OCD is associated with handling a dreaded consequence or anxiety, and parents need to seek professional help when those behaviors occur.

What can you do?
Setting limits around the attachment, as you might with other things, is certainly appropriate – If there are no signs of dysfunction, relax and remember that for most toddlers the obsession will run it’s course. So, don’t fret if your child’s attachment continues as a healthy and normal part of evolving identity.

By Ellen D. Begley, RN, NCC, LPC – Ellen is a registered nurse as well as a licensed and national board certified counselor. She has a private practice that serves children ages 2 to 18 and has over 18 years of experience counseling children and educating parents.