Toddlers throwing things is normal till it becomes a behavioral pattern. Throwing things needs developed motor skills and good hand-eye coordination. Hence, the act of throwing is usually a developmental achievement. However, if your child has the habit of throwing things, either to gain attention or due to some underlying issue, it could be worrying for you.
It is essential to know the reasons behind why toddlers throw things so that you can manage the behavior better.
Read on to understand why toddlers throw things and how you can help them manage such actions.
Why Do Toddlers Throw Things?
- Exploration: Toddlers are filled with curiosity and learn through experimentation. Throwing things can be very interesting for toddlers. They may do so to observe what happens when things bounce, fall, splash, or shatter. It is the toddler’s way of determining cause and effect. Observing the responses can help them understand their environment and the things around them.
- Seek attention: Toddlers love attention from their favorite person. They will do numerous things to grab the limelight. Throwing things is one of the acts to grab your attention. If they observe it works, they will most likely repeat it. A toddler may usually use this trick when the parent or caregiver is occupied with work or is talking to someone else.
- For fun: Toddlers get bored easily with similar games and the same toys. Thus, they may try different ways of using the same objects or playing with the same toys. Throwing is one way of playing with an old toy or an object that the toddler now finds boring. Throwing becomes the new game, and if the toddler starts having fun with it, they are likely to repeat it.
- Express emotions: Unlike adults, toddlers could find it difficult to express their feelings through words. They usually communicate through actions, such as crying or throwing things. Throwing things could communicate anger, sadness, or frustration for some other underlying reason, such as pain or hunger.
- Incorrect use: The toddler may be too young to understand the correct use of objects and may throw them due to lack of comprehension. They might also do so because they have seen someone else do it. For instance, they could have seen an older child throw a ball, and later when the toddler is given any round object, they immediately throw it away.
Problems That Might Arise Due To Throwing Things
If throwing becomes an ingrained habit, it may become a behavioral attribute. A toddler who becomes habituated to throwing things may develop the following undesired traits.
- The toddler may become indisciplined. If not stopped and corrected at the right moment, the toddler may repeat the behavior at any place and time, irrespective of whether it is appropriate. For example, a toddler who is habituated to throwing things may throw food and cutlery when at a restaurant.
- The toddler may develop a destructive personality. If inappropriate habits are not corrected, they could become an integral part of a child’s personality. The toddler would grow up to believe that it is okay to throw things to display anger or frustration. The habit may even carry forward to the toddler’s teenage years.
How To Stop Your Toddler From Throwing Things?
Parents must take necessary actions to prevent habits, such as throwing things, from becoming the child’s character trait. You may consider trying the following interventions.
- Explain the consequences: Teach the toddler the cause and effect of throwing objects that are not meant to be thrown. Use simple language and a polite tone to convey how objects could break and not function correctly if thrown.
- Set rules: Whenever the toddler throws a toy, take it away for some time. Set a rule that each time the toddler throws something, the object will be taken away. This technique will make the toddler realize that throwing things is unacceptable behavior.
- Give options: Provide alternatives when the child seems to have an urge to throw objects or when they want to experiment cause and effect. This can be helpful for young toddlers who often throw objects out of curiosity (3). You could offer objects that are meant to be thrown, such as a ball or a Frisbee. It will also help the toddler differentiate between objects that are meant to be thrown and those that are not allowed to be thrown.
- Praise them when they do right: Each time you see the toddler behaving as expected, praise them. If they are playing with a toy without throwing it, you can say, “it’s great that you are not throwing it anymore” or “you are a good boy/girl who does not throw the toy but cares for it.” Praising good behavior encourages the child to repeat it (4).
- Be a role model: Remember, your child is watching you! Toddlers learn by watching adults and try to copy them. If the toddler observes you throwing things when frustrated, they will be influenced to do the same. If you want to change your child’s habits, you need to set the right examples through your actions.
- Understand the child’s perspective: Some toddlers may have valid reasons for throwing objects, and it is essential to understand them. Observe when your toddler usually throws objects. For instance, a toddler may throw things when they are hungry or when it is past bedtime and they are not placed in their bed. Determine and address the underlying cause, and you can indirectly stop the toddler’s habit of throwing things.
- Teach constructive ways of expressing and exploring: When the toddler is in a good mood, teach them words and actions to express their emotions. Tell them that if they have a problem or are feeling sad or frustrated, they can always use words to communicate their emotions to their parents instead of throwing things.
- Be calm and confident when reacting: A child will understand the language of love more than that of anger (5). Be calm as you address the child’s behavior. If you cannot control your anger at the very moment, take some quiet time, and speak to your toddler later. Excessive force and anger could prompt a toddler to throw a tantrum and throw objects more aggressively.
- Tidy up together: Clean up the mess created by your toddler together. It could help the toddler see the damage, which they may not see in the heat of throwing things. Show the child how throwing things can damage them, and one can never have them back again. Let your toddler sense the extent of damage by not replacing anything they throw and break.
- Teach table manners: If your toddler has a habit of throwing food, teach them good table manners. You can do so by involving the entire family during meal times. Teach your toddler the importance of eating slowly without throwing the food around. Some toddlers tend to fling food when they are full. Acquaint your toddler with polite words or gestures they could use to communicate they are full instead of throwing food to kill time at the dining table.
Patience, empathy, and consistency are what you need to break or make a habit in children. Make sure you reinforce appropriate behavior through the regular practice of the above-mentioned interventions.
When to see a doctor?
You may consult a doctor about your toddler’s behavior if the toddler (6):
- Throws objects without any discernible triggers or reasons.
- Always ignores “No” or other instructions while throwing objects.
- Prefers throwing objects even in situations where they can communicate with you easily.
- Shows intense anger or frustration each time they throw things.
- Mostly throws objects directed towards someone, such as a parent or a sibling.
- Does not respond to your consistent efforts of correcting the habit.
Consult the pediatrician for such behavioral patterns. In some cases, these might be signs of autism, although you should not make any conclusions (7). Your toddler will undergo several tests to conclude the presence of autism, but only if the healthcare provider suspects it.
Throwing things is often a common habit among toddlers, and it usually fades away as the little one develops a better understanding of objects. Parents play a significant role in setting good habits in their children. Therefore, intervene early and teach your toddler the right way of using objects. Teach them the right outlets for their frustration and when it comes to throwing for play, provide them with toys that they can safely throw without hurting themselves or others.
2. When Toddlers Throw Things; From The Beginning
3. Interrupt and Redirect: For Toddler Throwing; Watson Institute
4. Aggressive Behavior In Toddlers; Zero To Three
5. What Not To Do When Your Child Is Having a Tantrum; Child Mind Institute
6. Preschooler With Autism Won’t Stop Throwing Things When Upset; Autism Speaks
7. Early Warning Signs Of Autism Spectrum Disorder; CDC