Toddler throwing things
Throwing things is a new and enjoyable skill for many children between 18 months and 3 years of age. It takes fine-motor skills to open the fingers and let go of an object, and considerable hand-eye coordination to actually throw it. Your toddler discovers that whatever she throws falls down – never up. She can’t say “gravity,” but she can certainly observe its effects. If she throws a ball, it bounces. If she tosses a plum, it goes splat. Of course, for you it’s maddening when spaghetti winds up all over your just-mopped kitchen floor or a clean pacifier lands on a dirty sidewalk, but to your toddler, it’s all great fun.
Unless your toddler’s throwing a rock through a window or really threatening to hurt someone, don’t give him a time-out or punish him. It’s futile to try to stop your child from throwing at this age. Concentrate instead on limiting what he throws and where he throws it with these tips.
Show her what she can throw. Your toddler will learn what not to throw more quickly if there are lots of things that she is allowed – and even encouraged – to throw. Balls are an obvious choice (stocking up on foam balls will minimize accidents indoors). But actual throwing games (like tossing beanbags in a basket or skipping stones on a pond) are even more fun for a 2-year-old, especially if you play with her.
The message you want to convey is that throwing things is fine if she throws the right things in the right place at the right time. When she throws something inappropriate, like a shoe, calmly take it away from her and say, ‘Shoes aren’t for throwing, but balls are.’ Then give her a ball to play with.
But parents can help kids learn self-control and teach them how to respond without just acting on impulse.
Teaching self-control is one of the most important things that parents can do for their kids because these skills are some of the most important for success later in life.
When kids are out of control
As difficult as it may be, resist the urge to yell when you’re disciplining your kids. Instead, be firm and matter of fact. During a child’s meltdown, stay calm and explain that yelling, throwing a tantrum, and slamming doors are unacceptable behaviors that have consequences — and say what those consequences are.
Your actions will show that tantrums won’t get kids the upper hand. For example, if your child gets upset in the grocery store after you’ve explained why you won’t buy candy, don’t give in — thus demonstrating that the tantrum was both unacceptable and ineffective.
Also, consider speaking to your child’s teachers about classroom settings and appropriate behavior expectations. Ask if problem-solving is taught or demonstrated in school.
And model good self-control yourself. If you’re in an irritating situation in front of your kids, tell them why you’re frustrated and then discuss potential solutions to the problem. For example, if you’ve misplaced your keys, instead of getting upset, tell your kids the keys are missing and then search for them together. If they don’t turn up, take the next constructive step (like retracing your steps when you last had the keys in-hand). Show that good emotional control and problem solving are the ways to deal with a difficult situation.
If you continue to have difficulties, ask your doctor if family counseling sessions might help.
How to teach kids learn self-control
By learning self-control, kids can make appropriate decisions and respond to stressful situations in ways that can yield positive outcomes.
For example, if you say that you’re not serving ice cream until after dinner, your child may cry, plead, or even scream in the hopes that you will give in. But with self-control, your child can understand that a temper tantrum means you’ll take away the ice cream for good and that it’s wiser to wait patiently.
Discipline is helping your child learn how to behave – as well as how not to behave. It works best when you have a warm and loving relationship with your child.
Discipline doesn’t mean punishment. In fact, discipline and discipline strategies are positive. They’re built on talking and listening, and they guide children towards:
- knowing what behavior is appropriate, whether it’s at home, a friend’s house, child care, preschool or school
- managing their own behavior and developing important skills like the ability to get along well with others
- learning to understand, manage and express their feelings.
The ways that you use discipline will change depending on what’s happening for your child at different stages of development.
Here are a few suggestions on how to help kids learn to control their behavior:
Babies do things to test their developing skills. They also enjoy making things happen. For example, your baby probably likes getting a reaction when he pulls your hair.
But babies don’t understand consequences. They also don’t know the difference between right and wrong.
This means that negative consequences, or punishment, don’t work for babies.
Instead, babies need warm, loving care so they feel secure. So when your baby pulls your hair, you might say ‘no’ and show him how to touch your hair gently. You’ll probably need to do this over and over again because your baby might not remember from one time to the next.
Toddlers often struggle with big feelings like frustration and anger. Their social and emotional skills are only just starting to develop, and they might be testing out their growing independence. Toddlers often respond with temper tantrums. Try to prevent outbursts by distracting your little one with toys or other activities.
You can help your child behave well by tuning in to his feelings, changing the environment, distracting him and planning ahead for challenging situations.
For kids reaching the 2-year-old mark, try a brief timeout in a designated area — like a kitchen chair or bottom stair — to show the consequences for outbursts and teach that it’s better to take some time alone instead of throwing a tantrum.
The key is to keep the time-out brief (a good rule of thumb is 60 seconds for every year of age) so your child doesn’t forget why she was made to stop what she was doing.
If she persists in throwing things in a hurtful manner, even though you’ve tried to deter her calmly and consistently, you may have no choice but to keep a close eye on the toys she plays with and shadow her while she plays with them.
Fasten his toys to his seat. When he’s in his stroller or car seat, try attaching a few playthings within easy reach (tie the toys with short pieces of string and trim the ends so they can’t get wrapped around his neck). He’ll quickly discover that in addition to throwing the objects, he can fish them back again. Double the fun for him, half the work for you.
Clean up together. Don’t ask your toddler to pick up everything he throws. That’s an overwhelming task for a child this age. Instead, try getting down on your hands and knees together and enlisting his help by saying, “Let’s see how fast we can pick up the blocks together,” or, “Can you help me find all the yellow M&M pieces?”
Set a good example. You don’t have to avoid casually tossing a pillow on the sofa to set a good example for your toddler. In fact, you can use the items you normally toss around your home to show her what’s good to throw and what’s not. The next time she throws something she shouldn’t, take a tour of your house together and toss socks in the hamper, tissues in the wastebasket, and toys in the toy chest instead.
Sit with him at mealtimes. This is a messy eating stage, but you can often avoid the worst of it by sitting with your toddler while he eats. That way you’re right there to gently but firmly tell him no when he makes a move to toss his lunch and to hold his plate down with your hand if need be. Parents should always sit with their children at mealtimes to engage them in conversation and help develop their language skills. It’s also the best way to make sure your toddler chews his food before swallowing so he doesn’t choke.
Use toddler-proof dishes. Never use your fine china or even breakable stoneware to feed your toddler. Instead, try getting her a special toddler dish with suction cups that fasten to the table or highchair tray so she can’t pick up the dish. Keep in mind, though, that while these work well enough that a casual grab won’t send her dish scuttling across the floor, they won’t stop a child who’s amazed to find her dish “stuck” and is determined to pry it off.
To minimize spills, give beverages in a cup with a snap-on lid. You can also try handing your child the cup when she’s ready for a drink, but keeping it out of reach between sips.
Stick to small portions. You’ll waste less and your toddler will have less ammunition if you serve him tiny portions of finger foods and hold off on dishing up more until he’s eaten what’s there. Don’t push him to eat more than he wants to unless your pediatrician says he’s having trouble thriving.
Most kids don’t start throwing their food until they’ve finished eating and grown bored. So, no matter how much he’s eaten, take your toddler’s food-flinging as a sign that he’s finished his meal. To avoid teaching him that flinging food is the right way to end a meal, calmly remind him, “Food isn’t for throwing,” before removing him from the table or highchair.
You might want to say something like, “Food is for eating, not for playing. You must not be hungry, so let’s put your lunch away.” To let him know you mean business, don’t feed him again until the next meal. You shouldn’t have to rearrange your family’s meal schedule, but it may help to feed your toddler only when he’s hungry.
If a bit of food does escape his hands, either by accident or on purpose, try to keep some perspective about it. After all, a dropped slice of bread or a pinch of grated cheese on the floor may be annoying, but we all drop things sometimes
Behavior management is about guiding your child’s behavior so that she learns the appropriate way to behave. Behavior management strategies work best when you’re putting time and effort into building a positive atmosphere at home and strengthening your family relationships with affection and communication.
Good family relationships help your child feel secure and loved. This is what children need to grow and learn.
A positive and constructive approach is often the best way to guide your child’s behavior. This means giving your child attention when he behaves well, rather than just punishing him when he does something you don’t like.
But it’s normal for children to behave in challenging ways at different stages and in particular situations. So trying to understand your child’s behavior is an important step in managing it. This way you can choose a reliable behavior management option that’s well matched to the causes of your child’s behavior.
And if you use behavior management strategies at the same time as you nurture strong family relationships, you’re well on your way to helping your child learn about appropriate behavior.
The first step to child behavior management
If you can understand why your child is behaving in a particular way, you can work out how best to respond. So before you choose behavior management strategies, it’s a good idea to check a few things.
- First, if your child’s behavior changes suddenly, check whether your child is healthy and getting enough sleep. Sometimes challenging behavior is the first sign that children aren’t well. If you’re not sure, take your child to your doctor for a check-up.
- Next think about your child’s development. It’s good to keep in mind that different kinds of challenging behavior are normal at different stages of development. For example, tantrums are very common in toddlers and preschoolers, because at this age children have big feelings and not enough words to express them.
- Third, consider whether there have been any changes in your family life that might affect your child’s behavior. For example, challenging behavior is normal after the birth of a new baby, when children start school or after a death in the family.
Understanding the developmental reasons and emotions behind your child’s behavior doesn’t mean you can ignore challenging behavior, but it does help you work out how to respond. Also, knowing what’s typical at different stages and in different circumstances helps you know whether you need extra help with your child’s behavior.
Choosing behavior management tools that are right for you
No single behavior management strategy will fix everything. Some strategies might work better than others for your family and situation. You’ll probably have to use a few strategies in combination. If you’re managing challenging behavior in children with autism spectrum disorder, you might need extra support.
Tried and tested behavior management strategies
- When you’re choosing behavior management strategies to guide your child’s behavior, you want options that will work.
- All the behavior management options on this website are based on reliable research evidence. And they’ve been tried and tested many times in many practical family situations.
- You might still have to try a few different options to work out what best suits your child’s age and stage and your family circumstances.
Four steps towards discipline and better child behavior
Clear expectations for your child’s behavior are the foundation of discipline for your child. Here’s how to get started.
1. Decide on family rules
A good place to start is with 4-5 family rules. For example, your family rules might be things like:
- We speak nicely to each other.
- We look after other people.
- Everyone helps out around the house.
- We look after our own belongings.
Children as young as three can help you make the rules and talk about why your family needs them.
2. Be a role model for the behavior you expect
Children learn by watching what you do. Showing your child the behavior you like by doing it yourself will help your child learn. For example, if you want your child to sit down to eat, sitting down together to eat family meals can help children learn this behavior.
3. Praise your child for good behavior
Praise is when you tell your child what you like about her or her behavior. When your child gets praise for behaving well, she’s likely to want to keep behaving well.
Descriptive praise is when you tell your child exactly what it is that you like. It’s best for encouraging good behavior. For example, ‘John, I really like how you used please and thank you just then. Great manners!’
4. Set clear limits and consequences
Decide on a consequence for breaking a family rule. For example, if your eight-year-old hasn’t done his household chores, the consequence might be the loss of pocket money for the week.
When you use consequences in the same way and for the same behavior every time, your child knows what to expect.
Ages 3 to 5
You can continue to use timeouts, but rather than setting a specific time limit, end timeouts when your child calms down. This helps kids improve their sense of self-control. And it’s just as important to praise your child for not losing control in frustrating or difficult situations by saying things like, “I like how you stayed calm” or “Good job keeping your cool.”
Ages 6 to 9
As kids enter school, they’re better able to understand the idea of consequences and that they can choose good or bad behavior. It may help your child to imagine a stop sign that must be obeyed and think about a situation before responding. Encourage your child to walk away from a frustrating situation for a few minutes to cool off instead of having an outburst. Praise kids when they do walk away and cool off — they’ll be more likely to use those skills in the future.
Ages 10 to 12
Older kids usually better understand their feelings. Encourage them to think about what’s causing them to lose control and then analyze it. Explain that sometimes situations that are upsetting at first don’t end up being so awful. Urge kids to take time to think before responding to a situation. Help them to understand that it’s not the situation that’s upset them — it’s what they think about the situation that makes them angry. Compliment them as they use their self-control skills.
Ages 13 to 17
By now kids should be able to control most of their actions. But remind teens to think about long-term consequences. Urge them to pause to evaluate upsetting situations before responding and talk through problems rather than losing control, slamming doors, or yelling. If necessary, discipline your teen by taking away certain privileges to reinforce the message that self-control is an important skill. Allow him or her to earn the privileges back by demonstrating self-control.