The next thing toddlers do after learning how to open their fingers and use their hands to pick things up, is to throw anything they can get their hands on. Toddlers throwing things is pretty common; it is actually a crucial part of their fine-motor skills development. For parents however, it can be one of the more frustrating stages to deal with. So how do you exactly stop your toddler from throwing things?
Why toddlers throw things
Before you can teach your child how NOT to throw things up, you need to understand why they do this behavior in the first place.
Most children between 18 months and 3 years old find it enjoyable to throw things. For one, they discover what happens to stuff when they are thrown around, and learn that different objects behave differently. Sure they don’t yet understand the concept of gravity, but they sure know whatever they throw falls down to the ground, and they enjoy it. They also know that balls bounce and orange slices splat. They love this little experiment of cause and effect.
What to do when toddlers throw things
Unless your toddler is throwing knives at you or trying to break the window with a rock, it is best not to scold, punish, or send your child to a time-out. At this age, it is not only futile to try to stop your child from throwing things; it can even be detrimental for their understanding of their environment.
Here are a few things you can do about it.
Understand what the behavior actually is
Your child is trying to communicate with you. Since they cannot speak words yet, they use actions such as throwing. Your child is simply trying to figure out how stuff works around him. If you realize what they are trying to say with the action, it will be easier to stop it.
For example, most toddlers start throwing stuff to get your attention. If you have been ignoring your toddler for a while, then that could be the reason.
Don’t take it personally
While toddler throwing things can be frustrating sometimes, especially if the action causes someone to get hurt, such as their siblings, it is important that you do not react emotionally. Overreacting will only escalate things as your toddler will start to realize he can have power over you – through your emotions.
Be calm and confident. Take a couple of deep breaths before you respond.
Show what he can or cannot throw
Give your toddler the freedom to throw, but with limitations. You will be able to teach your child not to throw stuff a lot quicker if your child knows what he is allowed, or even encouraged to throw. Foam balls for example, can negate a lot of hazards. You can also play bean bag throw or skip stones on a pond with your child. You can toss throw pillows on the sofa and play with it with your child.
The idea is simple – you want your child to identify which things he is allowed to throw, at the right place and at the right time. As soon as he throws something inappropriate, such as the TV’s remote, calmly take that object away and tell your child it’s not for throwing. Then, you can give the foam ball instead.
If he starts to throw building blocks, tell him blocks are not for throwing but for building. Then, show your child how to use the building blocks to build stuff. Say “I cannot let you throw this at your sister. Let’s use this to build a castle instead!”
Discourage destructive throwing
So what can you do when your toddler does throw something he shouldn’t? If your child knows throwing something he shouldn’t throw gets your attention, try to ignore it as much as possible. Because if it gets your attention every time, he will do it over and over again.
Toddlers learn through repetition. If your toddler comes close to throwing stuff at another child, it is important that you react the same way. Say no to your child, take the item away from their hands, and remove your child from the situation to give him a fresh start.
Keep the time-out short though, about a minute. This will remind your child why you made him stop what he was doing.
Allow them to respond emotionally
Your child will cry and get angry about the consequences (i.e. quick time-out). Let them. As long as they are safe and not hurting themselves, allow them to respond to their consequences emotionally. Validate their emotions, but follow through with the consequences. If you remove your child from the play area, you can sit quietly or give him supportive words as he cries. Whatever you do, stay close by to your toddler. Tell your child you can allow them back in the playroom when they are calm.
Acknowledge their emotions
After, or sometimes during a child’s emotional response (i.e. tantrum), make sure to let them know you understand their emotions and frustrations. Respect their emotions and help them realize those big emotional responses are completely okay. This will teach your child to navigate through their emotions better.
Teach them to communicate better
If you notice that your toddlers throw things at other children when they are angry, then encourage and teach your child to better express his feelings instead. Ask your child to tell you when he is angry and why.
Let your child know you are unhappy with his actions using the tone of your voice, but never respond in anger.
Be extra patient
Your limits will be tested. No matter how well you manage your toddler’s environment, he will want to push the boundaries and exercise his power by doing things you said he is not allowed to do. If your child doesn’t want anything to do with the alternatives you offer, you can hide things they want to throw away out of their sight.
For example, you can say something like “I can see you are done with the building blocks, I’m going to put them back inside the box until you are ready to play with them again.” You can throw your foam balls instead.