Skip to main content

Why toddlers throw things: What to do to stop them from breaking objects and driving you mad

Learn why toddlers throw things so you can create and maintain a safe environment for everyone

Little girl about to throw a bowl on the kitchen floor.
Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

Kids inherently know just what to do to drive their parents crazy, and none more so than a toddler. One thing these tiny rebels do to make you question living in your own home is throwing anything they get their hands on. When babies are first born, they often can’t even figure out how to let go of an object in their hand, but toddlers don’t know their own strength, and these baby Hulks love to watch items go the distance.

Throwing is easily one of the most maddening things toddlers do because it’s destructive and dangerous. What’s a parent to do? We’ll help you figure out why toddlers throw things and how to get them to stop.

happy toddler boy running with mom following behind
Oksana Kuzmina / Shutterstock

Why toddlers throw things in such a dramatic way

One reason toddlers are so keen on throwing is to learn about the world. Rules of physics that seem extremely obvious to adults — the existence of gravity, for instance, or the fact that a ball will fall faster than a feather if you drop them both — aren’t something we’re born knowing. Young children throw objects in part to learn about their environment and to observe what happens. Toddlers are basically little scientists who need to test hypotheses all day long to learn about how their world works.

In addition to learning about the rules of the physical world, toddlers are extremely curious about what rules the adults in their lives have set. What’s more important (and fun) for them is to see how we will react when they disobey those rules. If their parent has told them not to throw food off their highchair, toddlers can’t help but wonder … what happens if I do?

Throwing is an exciting activity for them. The object makes a big crash and parents make a big jump. That combination is irresistible to a toddler, who is often excited to learn that it’s in their power to make a big sound and get a big reaction out of their parent. Adults are just caught in the crossfire.

Toddler playing with trucks.
avtk / Shutterstock

How parents should react to teach consequences constructively

  • Remain calm.
  • Do not yell at the child.
  • Give them options so they feel in control.
  • Don’t let them smell your fear.

As much as possible, parents should try to avoid having a strong reaction to a child who throws things. Remaining calm is crucial to get your child to see that they won’t get a big reaction. Simone Davies, a Montessori educator who wrote the books The Montessori Toddler and The Montessori Baby, suggests parents avoid having an over-the-top reaction and instead look for logical consequences for throwing.

In The Montessori Toddler, Davies writes, “Let’s say they are throwing the ball inside, and we have to ask them to stop. A logical consequence would be for us to put the ball away and let our child try again later.”

She also suggests parents provide lots of opportunities for children to practice the skill in a safe environment (for instance, outside, and away from breakable objects). Parents should calmly offer alternatives for children who are fixated on throwing an object they shouldn’t. If a child is gearing up to send a large toy sailing across the room, say: “I can’t let you throw that inside, but you can throw these little bean bags.”

A toddler sitting down with a plate of food.
Galina Zhigalova / Shutterstock

What to do if your toddler is throwing food and disrupting mealtime

  • Find out the reason behind the throw to curb it from happening again.
  • Offer ways for your child to communicate so they don’t resort to throwing.
  • Be reasonable with how long a toddler will sit for.

Many parents look forward to when their child starts to sit at the table to eat their food. But soon after your little one starts sitting in a highchair, they discover the joy of flinging your carefully prepared sweet potatoes off the tray and right onto the floor. And if you don’t have a dog to help with cleanup, this isn’t ideal.

If your child is a picky eater and throws a food you’ve offered in order to get it out of sight, offer a small napkin or sectioned-off area of their highchair to place food they don’t want to eat. If your kiddo doesn’t speak yet and is throwing food as a way to communicate they are done with the meal, teaching the baby sign for “all done” will give them another (less messy) way to get the message across.

Anderson notes parents may have unrealistic expectations about how long a child will sit and eat a meal before becoming distracted and getting bored. She suggests many children will only sit for 1 to 2 minutes per year of age and for parents to make mealtime shorter to cut down on throwing.

Toddler and dad having fun playing with toys on the floor.
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

The emotional side of why your toddler is perfecting their aim

  • If they can’t yet, this is their communication technique.
  • If they are frustrated and don’t think anyone is listening to them, they are going to throw.
  • If their needs aren’t being met and they’re confused, they will throw to get attention.

Your toddler could have a deeper meaning to why they are throwing than just wanting to figure out how gravity works. Jennifer Anderson, a registered dietician and founder of the website Kids Eat in Color, suggests there are many different reasons why kids throw food, and the main ones are boredom, fear, attention-seeking purposes, or out of confusion. Knowing which of these your toddler is experiencing will help determine how to get them to stop.

If your child isn’t talking yet, their frustration comes out as them throwing something. They aren’t trying to put a hole in the wall or break a toy, but they don’t know how else to get you to listen to them. If your child doesn’t feel like you are paying attention to them and they throw something, instead of getting angry at them, check yourself. Have you been on your phone? Are you paying attention to the TV? Your toddler wants you and knows throwing something will get you to turn you toward them.

The best news for parents who are being driven to insanity by a toddler throwing everything in sight is that, like every other stage, it’s a phase. By the time they’re 4 to 5 years old, the magical curiosity about throwing will wear off. If you happen to have a toddler who skips this step, remember that no one likes a bragger. But if you have a toddler who is training to join the MBL, know you aren’t alone. Prepare yourself as best as you can for that little arm and remember ways to try to keep your toddler’s mind off of what they want to throw next.

Editors' Recommendations

Sarah Jaffe
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Sarah Jaffe is a former lawyer and parenting writer who lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and four-year-old…
Why do toddlers wake up crying? A few alarming things might be going on
This is why toddlers wake up crying
Toddler girl having a night terror

Every veteran parent has memories of a time (or lots of times) when their toddler woke up in a fit of tears. Sometimes it happened in the middle of the night or sometimes way too early in the morning. If you're a parent going through it now, we feel you. Thankfully, these instances are normally a one- or two-night ordeal, and they're usually caused by a disruption to your child's sleep routine.

A young tot that consistently wakes up crying is concerning for any parent. Not only does this disrupt your own routine, but it creates a difficult and sometimes frustrating environment for everybody else in the home. There are a few reasons why toddlers wake up crying, and there are steps for parents and guardians to take to try to remedy this predicament. Let’s dive into a few of those underlying issues so parents can work out the kinks of their child’s teary times and get everyone back to a regular sleep schedule.

Read more
Why do toddlers cry in their sleep and how can you help them?
Find out why toddlers cry in their sleep so everyone gets a good night's rest
A toddler sleeping in the bed.

Have you ever woken in the middle of the night to your toddler's cries, only to discover by the time you've run to check on them that they are back asleep? If so, you're not alone. If your typical happy-go-lucky toddler is suddenly crying out in their sleep, it may make parents worried that something may be wrong. As if toddler behavior isn't difficult enough to figure out when they're awake, parents need to know why toddlers cry in their sleep.
The good news is that toddlers crying in their sleep is a normal part of their development and doesn't mean there's anything troubling your child that you should be concerned about. In fact, this behavior has a variety of different causes. Learn some of the reasons why toddlers cry in their sleep and if there's anything to do to help prevent it, so everyone gets a good night's sleep.

Sleep patterns could be off

Read more
Are you a helicopter mom? Here’s how to tell and what to do about it
Is being a helicopter parent so bad? Here's how to tell if you're too overbearing
Mom encouraging baby to crawl

It's hard out there for parents these days. It seems that no matter how you parent, someone on the internet will have something to say about it, especially if you're a mom. For some reason, dads don't face nearly as much judgment about how they raise their kids as mothers do. After all, terms like silky mom, tiger mom, and crunchy mom, are now common terms used to describe different parenting methods, but the helicopter mom is the OG of these parenting styles.

What is helicopter parenting?
Helicopter parenting became a widely used term in the 1990s, and describes overprotective parents who hover over their children, hence the term "helicopter." Authors Foster Cline and Jim Fay popularized the term in their book Parenting with Love and Logic, writing that helicopter parents, "hover over and then rescue their children whenever trouble arises." They added that "they're forever running lunches, permission slips, band instruments, and homework assignments to school."
You may also recognize the helicopter parent on the playground as they hover over their child, constantly monitoring how they play and who they play with. Helicopter parents try to shield their children from any potential conflict or struggle, which can be understandable but also detrimental to a child's personal development.

Read more