Obsessions with trucks, trains, cars, or dinosaurs make kids smarter

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This post was first written and shared several years ago, but today I had a conversation with someone that reminded me of this post.  I wanted to reshare it – it’s a great reminder. 🙂

Our son, Beau, had been “obsessed” with cars since he was a toddler.    He can name the make and model of just about any car.

He knows about cars that I didn’t even know existed.  If a car sounds funny, he will tell me why and then explain the way that it needs to be fixed.  For his birthday, he asked for an engine (a real car engine), so he could work on it.

The other day, I read an article about how children with obsessions, described as “intense interests” (which is a strong interest in a specific topic) are actually smarter.  These children are problem solvers, they seek more knowledge, and they often carry what they learn throughout their lives.

These obsessions make kids smarter.

Many decades of research & studies support the fact that having these obsessions are actually GOOD for kids.  Three studies, in imparticular, have shown that when older children have these very intense interests, they tended to be more intelligent & smarter than children without obsessions or intense interests.

While girls often have intense interests, a study at Yale also suggests that it is more common in boys than in girls.

Obsessions boost kids’ confidence.

“Intense interests are a big confidence booster for kids,” says pediatric psychiatric occupational therapist at Johns Hopkins, Kelli Chen.
They’re also particularly beneficial for cognitive development.

A 2008 study found that sustained intense interests, particularly in a conceptual domain like dinosaurs, can help children develop increased knowledge and persistence, a better attention span, and more in-depth information-processing skills.

Intense Interests make better learners and smarter kids.

When looking into the reasons for this, it all made perfect sense.  These kids are always researching the topic; they are continually seeking more knowledge about it; they are always asking questions.  In short, they make the children better learners, which makes them smarter kids.

According to LifeHacker.com:  ‘Kate Morgan writes about the phenomenon in the New York Magazine piece “A Psychological Explanation for Kids’ Love of Dinosaurs,” citing that almost a third of all children have an obsession like this at some point, typically between the ages of 2 and 6.

According to a study by the Universities of Indiana and Wisconsin, this helps children improve their linguistic (language) skills significantly.  They also show that kids with intense interests have a higher level of understanding.

How will this help them as they age?

These children learn new ways to learn.  They dig into their topic so deeply, figuring out new ways to learn about their interest.  They then take these problem-solving strategies with them into their lives.

They learn what questions to ask, how to learn more, how to dive into topics, etc…
It is almost like they are teaching themselves how to study and how to dig deeper into everything that they learn.

Instead of just learning “for a test” or “for the moment” instead of memorizing, these kids learn how to figure out WHY this works the way it does.  They want to deepen their knowledge about subjects and topics.   They are connecting the dots and finding the relationships between things.

Are your interests passed onto your child?

I wondered this myself since my husband loves football, but he also is really interested in Mustangs.  However, Beau doesn’t have as much of an interest in sports, but he could learn about cars all day long.  Mustangs aren’t on the top of Beau’s “car list,” so this showed me that while they share an interest, it wasn’t developed because of his dad’s interests.

On the other hand, my dad (Beau’s grandfather) is exactly like Beau in this way.

I looked into it a little more:

According to the Telegraph:  “Researchers have suggested people have a “hobby gene” which means they pick up their parents’ hobbies such as Morris dancing, fishing or sailing, and professions such as acting.

This would suggest why actors such as Kate Hudson and Kiefer Sutherland have followed in the footsteps of Goldie Hawn and Donald Sutherland, while London Mayor Boris Johnson’s ancestors shared his dual interests of journalism and politics. The actress Drew Barrymore can trace acting 200 years back through the generations of her family.

The “hobby gene” is strongest in people from Scotland and Northern Ireland with more than three in ten people having discovered ancestors with similar occupations and hobbies.  Londoners also share the phenomenon with more than one in four sharing similar occupations and hobbies with their ancestors.”

According to Elaine Collins of FindMyPast.com: ‘It appears that while many specific occupations may have changed or disappeared over time as social trends and the economy shifted, many of these core skills and interests are still being passed down from generation to generation.  You would be surprised with how many people have found that they actually come from a long line of doctors, actors, sailors, or stamp collectors.”

On the other hand, according to Nigel Barber, Ph.D.: “There is little doubt that how we act is affected by genes in fairly generalized ways. Some individuals are born with a propensity to be outgoing, to be happy, emotionally reactive, sociable, creative, or intelligent. Yet, we do not have a good understanding of any of the relevant biochemical mechanisms.”

Will the interest last?

A Yale study says no.  According to psychologist Jennifer Delgado, only 20% of children continue with their interests for more than 3 years.   The reason, she states, is that children are often so busy with schoolwork that they lose time for their interest, and their passion for it melts away.

“The obsessions often wane eventually, and that can be bittersweet.” ~ Michelle Woo

Does the topic of this ‘intense interest‘ really matter?

No.  Many children have an obsession with dinosaurs, garbage trucks, jobs, sports, etc…

“More than fleeting kid-thrills, like chocolate ice cream for dessert, these fascinations emerge without parental encouragement, stick around for a relatively long period of time (in child-years, that is), and are pursued with fervor, often to a point where people beyond Mom and Dad start to notice. The subjects of interest can range from garbage trucks to excavators…” ~Telegraph

Should you encourage the interest?

Yes!  “Intelligence is the ability to solve problems, which means that it is not limited to cognition and IQ but goes much further. ”
These intense interests help children to develop:

Increased knowledgeIncreased persistenceA better attention spanDeeper information-processing skills.

There are decades of research to back that up: Three separate studies have found that older children with intense interests tend to be of above-average intelligence.

Michello Woo gives excellent advice: “Parents should do what they can to support their child’s interest, even if it’s not their own cup of tea… Losing yourself in a passion is a great joy, and parents can show their kids early on that there’s always more to learn.”

More posts you might like: 

1- Irregular Bedtime Makes Kids Behave Worse & Have slower Development
2- Learning this makes kids smarter 
3- Kindergarten sight words
4- Teaching kids to sleep later

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