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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 maintain a safe environment

If you are a parent, your kids know just what to do to drive you crazy. There are few things on this planet that drive a parent to the edge more 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. Later on, many parents may find themselves missing those days when their toddler didn’t know their own strength. Throwing is easily one of the most maddening things toddlers do. It’s also destructive and dangerous. What’s a parent to do? We’ll help you figure out why toddlers throw things so you can get them to stop.

Little girl about to throw a bowl on the kitchen floor

Why do 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 life have set. More important (and fun) for them is 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 tends to be 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.

Toddler playing with trucks

How should parents react so as constructively teach consequences?

  • Remain calm
  • 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. 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 that 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.”

One toddler showing another a toy

What should you do if your toddler is throwing food and disrupting mealtime?

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. Jennifer Anderson, a registered dietician, and the founder of the website Kids Eat in Color, suggests that there are many different reasons why kids throw food: boredom, fear, attention-seeking, or confusion.

Figuring out which of these reasons is at the root of your child’s throwing will help you address the problem. 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 child is throwing food as a way to communicate that 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 that 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 can only sit for 1 to 2 minutes per year of age and that parents make mealtime shorter to cut down on throwing.

The best news for parents who are being driven to insanity by a toddler throwing everything in sight is that, like everything else, it’s a phase. By the time they’re 4 to 5 years old, the magic will have worn off.

If you happen to have a toddler who skips this step, remember that no one likes a bragger. But if you are one of us that has 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 can throw next.

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