When her son was 3, Amy Spencer of Winlock, WA, found herself stuck in a traffic jam almost daily -- on her living room floor. "Luke lined up his cars there, and he got very upset if you disrupted the order," she says.
The behavior's not unusual. In fact, you may have noticed that your own child has developed a new passion for organizing anything he can get his hands on, from shoes to stuffed animals. Worry-prone parents might immediately fret about autism, but if your child shows no other symptoms, there's probably no need to be concerned, says Judith Myers-Walls, Ph.D., associate professor of child development and family studies at Purdue University. He's simply trying to make some sense out of a world that, from his perspective, can seem pretty darn overwhelming at times.
"Kids this age are learning how things work and fit together," says Myers-Walls. Between 3 and 5, children finally gain the cognitive skills to link objects by function (toys that bounce) and category (things you wear). Sizing things up this way is not only soothing for your child but will also make it easier for him to stay neat, now that he knows socks all go in one drawer and toys in another. Well, it's a good idea in theory!