Toddlers throwing things is considered normal if this behavior does not become a pattern. Learning to throw is a developmental milestone that requires developed motor skills and good hand–eye coordination.
However, if you notice that your child throws things to gain attention, consider discussing it with a professional to detect any underlying issues. It is important to understand the reason behind a toddler’s behaviors, such as throwing things, to help them rectify them and inculcate better behaviors.
Read this post to understand what makes toddlers throw things and how you can help them manage this behavior.
Why Do Toddlers Throw Things?
According to Maria Pistorio, LPC, NCC, a therapist specializing in EMDR, CBT therapy, and parent-child interaction therapy, “Toddlers often throw things instead of playing gently for many reasons. Sometimes, emotional dysregulation, which is in short supply for toddlers, leads to a tantrum. Other times, they throw things to learn what happens when they do it, both with the object and the relationship dynamics with the caregiver.”
- Exploration: Toddlers are filled with curiosity and learn through experimentation. Throwing things can be very interesting for them. 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, which helps a baby’s social development.
- Seek attention: Toddlers display attention-seeking behaviors, such as whining and clinging, to get 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.
“Children crave attention, and it doesn’t matter if it is good or bad attention; they want it all. As a result, their behavior can be shaped with positive parental attention on positive opposite behaviors, such as praising the child for playing gently or keeping the toys on the table,” Pistorio adds.
- For fun: Toddlers get bored easily with similar games and the same toys during their play time. 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.
- Love the sound!: The toddler might just love to hear the sound the things make when they come in contact with the ground. And since every item makes a different noise when it hits the ground, this makes it all the more interesting for them.
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 supervise and take necessary actions to prevent habits, such as throwing things, from becoming a 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 and boundaries: 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. This redirection 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). Pistorio suggests, “The behavior you pay attention to is the behavior you see more often, so paying attention to the positives proactively will reduce the incidence of the negative behaviors better than correcting the child. Tell the child what to do instead of what not to do.”
- 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 positive communication methods to express their emotions 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. Remember that tantrums are temporary. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, tantrums are most common between ages 1 and 3 years and are a normal part of the child’s development. Tantrums fade out as the toddler grows.
- 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do toddlers with autism throw things?
Throwing objects to express emotions such as anger and anxiety (temper tantrums) is common among toddlers. However, toddlers with autism may engage in this activity more since they experience greater difficulty understanding, managing, and expressing their emotions (8). Parents can help toddlers with autism improve their behavior with patience and persistence.
2. Do toddlers with ADHD throw things?
Toddlers with ADHD are impulsive and may find practicing self-control difficult (9). When overstimulated, they may express their emotions by throwing objects. However, most toddlers throw things for fun or to express their emotions. Thus, a toddler who throws objects doesn’t necessarily have ADHD. If you are worried about your toddler’s behavior, speaking to a doctor can help end your doubts and speculations.
3. What can I do if my toddler’s throwing behavior is causing harm to others or damaging property?
If your toddler is showing destructive behavior, tell them that this behavior is unacceptable and will have consequences. Then, have them take responsibility for their action by apologizing and cleaning up the mess. You should also follow up with an appropriate punishment, such as involving them in chores and limiting playtime. Additionally, to prevent future incidents, keep valuable objects from your toddler’s reach, divert their attention when you notice the anger building up, and consult a professional.
Toddler throwing things is a bothersome but benign habit that wanes once the toddler understands objects and surroundings better. Learning through experimentation, seeking attention, and expressing themselves are common reasons for toddlers throwing objects. But since throwing objects can sometimes hurt the baby or others, you must adopt positive discipline strategies to teach your toddler the right ways to vent out frustration. If they like throwing things for fun, provide them with safer alternatives like soft toys so that they may not hurt themselves and others.
Infographic: Toddler Throwing Things: Behavior Management Strategies
Toddlerhood comes with new challenges for parents, including the toddler’s temper tantrums and throwing things at hand. If you have a toddler who often resorts to such behaviors, you may try the strategies described in this infographic to help your child learn positive behaviors.
- Your toddler may throw things to get your attention, express emotions, or simply for fun.
- Throwing things may become a behavioral trait of your toddlers, leading them to become indisciplined and have destructive personalities.
- Establish home rules and teach your child about the consequences of their actions.
- Deal with your toddler’s behavior with patience, empathy, and persistence.
- Consult a pediatrician if your toddler is showing constant behavioral issues.
Learn effective techniques to prevent your toddler from hurling objects through this informative video! Gain valuable insights on redirecting their actions and ensuring their safety.
- Learn the Signs Act Early; CDC
- When Toddlers Throw Things; From The Beginning
- Interrupt and Redirect: For Toddler Throwing; Watson Institute
- Aggressive Behavior In Toddlers; Zero To Three
- What Not To Do When Your Child Is Having a Tantrum; Child Mind Institute
- Preschooler With Autism Won’t Stop Throwing Things When Upset; Autism Speaks
- Early Warning Signs Of Autism Spectrum Disorder; CDC
- Autism and Tantrums: Behavioral Strategies for Parents; Therapeutic Pathways
- ADHD in Children; Help Guide