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'My toddler has developed a bizarre obsession. Should I be worried?'

My 19-month-old toddler is in love. Not with his teddies, cars or trucks (although he quite likes these too), his biggest current obsession is: bins. Bathroom bins, kitchen bins, red bins, yellow bins, green bins, skip bins, council bins, street bins, dirty bins, clean bins. He loves them equally and likes to greet them as if they are alive.

He yells ‘HELLO BIN!’ from the car as one whizzes by in my peripheral vision, or points and waves at his friend ‘BIIIIIIIIIIN!’ from across the street. He loves to see the garbage truck once a week and yet he got upset when he saw one of his bin friends fall over after being roughly placed back on the ground by the giant claw, ‘poor bin!’.

This cornucopia of waste receptacles and regular rubbish collection days is great for ensuring we live in a functioning, clean country. However, it’s becoming a bit of a nightmare for me right now when I simply need to pop down the street to get something done – there are bins just about everywhere!

"Leo doesn’t care that I need a coffee before we go to the bank, he just wants to touch, chat to and put something in the bin." Image: Supplied.

Leo doesn’t care that I need a coffee before we go to the bank, he just wants to touch, chat to and put something in the bin. If it opens and closes, all the better, let’s do that too. It’s cute and funny until it is slightly annoying when we have to leave the bin behind and he gets upset. Thankfully saying a wistful ‘bye-bye bin’ and giving it a friendly pat, has started to help to ease the parting blow and we also now have a mini collection of bins for him to play with at home.

Our eldest son Toby had a more ‘regular’ obsession with cars and trains and when he was a baby, he also loved to point out any ceiling fans going around and around. A friend at the time mentioned that this could be a sign of autism and so what began as a cute little quirk, turned into something I worried about until he grew out of his simple toddler obsessions.

With Leo’s love of bins, the same worries did of course cross my mind, so rather than consulting Dr Google at 3am (guaranteed to exacerbate all parental worries), I spoke to clinical psychologist and mum-of-two Sarah Mehaffey for some professional advice and reassurance.

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"It’s cute and funny until it is slightly annoying when we have to leave the bin behind and he gets upset." Image: Supplied.

“Developmentally from the age of 18 months to around three years old, children are seeking routine and order to help make sense of their world. By developing behavioural routines (that we may view as obsessional) it assists them to find comfort in an otherwise scary world. Toddlers are sensitive to stress and easily over stimulated and use objects to cope because they cannot verbalise thoughts. Repetitive behaviours also enable them to develop and master their skills.

“Having obsessions at this age is not unusual and in fact quite common as they learn about their world.  By the ages of four to five most children will have stopped obsessing and become more flexible.

“Parents should seek professional advice about potential autism spectrum disorders (ASD) if the repetitive, obsessive behaviour becomes a sole focus that interferes with daily functions or engagement with the family, or if a child has trouble interacting using eye contact and communicating with others. Otherwise, this is a normal (sometimes frustrating or bewildering!) part of a toddler’s development.”

For now, I will just swallow down my frustration and keep on waving at bins and singing ‘twinkle-twinkle little bin’ until Leo moves on from this phase and finds something else to obsess over. I know it won’t last forever and one day soon I will be wishing he still loved bins and was not begging me to play Fortnite.

Does your toddler obsess over something odd? How do you manage it at home and does it ever worry you? Tell us in the comments section below.

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