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Kid Obsessions

Wild horses couldn't keep Sierra Prosapio, 8, of Canyon Lake, TX, from, well, horses. She's so fascinated by them, says her mom, Winter, that "sometimes, she'll neigh instead of talk, and gallop instead of walk."

When young grade-schoolers find an animal or character they like, it's common for them to fixate on it. Sometimes, it's a coping mechanism  -- if a best friend just moved away, for instance, he may develop an intense interest in a favorite book series or hobby as a way to deal.

Repeating a certain kind of play can also help kids master skills, says Craig Donnelly, M.D., chief of child psychiatry at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover, NH. Other kids are simply imagining what life as a pirate or princess is like, and they can spend days  -- or months  -- acting out that fantasy.

A neighing, galloping child may get on your nerves, but he also might alienate friends who aren't interested in horseplay. To broaden your child's horizons while incorporating the thing he loves:

Encourage creativity. Have him write a book or put on a play starring his favorite character. Provide an opening line, like "Once upon a time, Emma the penguin went swimming...," and let him take it from there. You'll probably find the plot has little to do with penguins.

Make a game of it. Give him a SpongeBob ball to play catch with, or rename the locations in Candyland after the time periods in which dinosaurs lived. He'll be more willing to try other activities if his favorite character is around. If he enjoys the game, leave the character out of it next time.

If you can't beat it, join it. Let your child give you a "test" on his favorite subject. He'll love being the teacher and you might discover what he finds so appealing.

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