Does Your Child Have Shiny Object Syndrome?

Does Your Child Have Shiny Object Syndrome?

Shiny Object Syndrome starts with the best of intentions. When my first child was a baby, it was like wrangling a bear to change his diaper. He would flip and squirm like a wild animal. A thoughtful friend suggested that I keep a variety of toys near the changing pad. That way, each time I changed him I could give him a new toy to keep him busy. You know what? It worked.

Even babies love new and exciting things.

This idea of providing a constant stream of entertainment, toys, and stimulation to our kids begins at the earliest age. We snap toys onto the stroller when we go for walks. We clip rattles onto the carseat when we go for a drive. As children grow, we keep playrooms stacked to the brim in an effort to “keep kids from getting bored”. We strategically pack a wide array of snacks to take on an airplane so that we can occupy children as well as possible.

We do it because it works really well in the moment–it’s a quick fix.

I call these quick fixes, “shiny objects”. Imagine you are walking through the mall and you pass a jewelry store. A stunning diamond necklace in the window catches your eye. You stop in your tracks.

“Oooo, wow. Shiny”.

Similarly, your kid is having a tantrum and you pull out a bag of Cheerios. It stops him in his tracks.

“Oooo, wow. Shiny”.

What is Shiny Object Syndrome?

Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS) happens when something new and exciting (a shiny object) catches your eye and attention. This shiny object causes you to abandon everything. You get distracted and off-track. Most of you will get hit with a shiny object while you are reading this article. It might be a Facebook alert that pops up on your phone or an Amazon delivery that arrives at your doorstep.

If you haven’t heard of it, that’s because SOS is a fictitious disorder. Even though it’s not a real medical disorder, it is a way to describe a very real struggle that children of today are facing.

Our world today is fast-paced and stimulating. Rates of multitasking are at an all-time high. It’s not surprising that ADHD rates have increased to record highs with up to 11% of children being diagnosed. If SOS sounds a little bit like ADHD, that’s because it is.

It’s naturally difficult for kids to stay on task, be focused, and calm. As a result of the way young brains develop, all children tend to struggle with impulsivity and short attention spans.

A short attention span and impulsive behavior doesn’t mean that your child has ADHD. Although ADHD is a very real disorder characterized by a more severe set of these behaviors, every child will face these challenges to some lesser degree as they grow.

It’s normal. Children of today are growing up in a world that is crazy, exciting, and busy. 

We can’t change the world nor can we speed up brain development. But we can help our kids to be calm, focused, and attentive. Here are seven ways that we can be proactive and support our children.

Have fewer toys

When you have a playroom full of “options” it often results in a child who bops around from one thing to the next. Instead of encouraging this type of play, let’s give fewer options. Rather than providing an environment that encourages children to bounce around–let’s encourage them to take one thing and stick with it. A bed sheet can become a cape, fort, or a picnic blanket. Let’s teach them to take one thing then invent, innovate, and create. Having fewer toys is better for our children.


It’s hard for young children to get focused–it’s even harder for them to stay focused. Research has shown the kids learn better in decluttered spaces. We know that kids learn through play, so let’s provide simple, decluttered spaces for them to play, learn, and grow.

Stop Entertaining

We are parents, not clowns. We often put ourselves in the position of being the entertainers. When we constantly provide entertainment and activity for our kids, we are depriving them of the chance to learn how to entertain themselves. In our house, we do very little in the way of adult-led, structured, planned activities–and it’s not because we are lazy.


Do you have a constant stream of new, exciting stuff coming into your home? I put myself on an Amazon Prime hiatus for this very reason. If we want to teach our kids to utilize the toys and items they already have–then we need to model this behavior. That means being more intentional about what we bring into our lives and into our homes.

Slow Parenting

Let’s slow down. Stop over-scheduling the lives of our families. When a child starts to feel overwhelmed they start to act out of control. Let’s provide them with routine, structure, and plenty of time to chill the $%^@ out.

Lay Off The Sugar

Sugar is in EVERYTHING these days. Fruit snacks? Yogurt? Oatmeal? Let’s be real, sugar jacks our kids up. If your child struggles with attention, focus, and hyperactivity–lay off the sugar. Consider evaluating their diet as a whole to see if other types of food could be contributing as well.

Delayed Gratification

This is hard. Really hard. But the best way for our kids to learn to wait and be patient is to practice it regularly. If we are constantly throwing shiny objects at our kids and giving them what they request immediately then they will come to expect it on a regular basis. Practice makes perfect. Well, maybe not “perfect”, but practice will make it better.

Shiny Object Syndrome is a struggle that is here to stay in the year 2017. Does it pervade your house? What do you do to support your kids and their ability to be calm and focused?

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.