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Why toddlers throw 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. No wonder your toddler wants to practice this exciting skill!
What happens next is educational, too: 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.
What you can do about it
"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," says Roni Leiderman, associate dean of the Family Center at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 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," says Leiderman.
Discourage her aggressive throwing. What should you do when your toddler does throw something she shouldn't – sand from the sandbox, for instance, or blocks at another child? As much as possible, try to ignore it the first few times it happens. If she knows she can get your attention by throwing something she shouldn't at someone, she's likely to do it again.
If your child often comes close to hurting other children by throwing things at them, it's important that you always react the same way, since toddlers learn through repetition. The next time she does it, say, "No, that hurts," and pull her aside for a quick time-out to call attention to the "no" and to remove her from the situation so she can start fresh in a moment.
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 you notice that she throws things at other children when she gets angry, encourage her to express herself with words instead. Say, "If you're angry at Emily, use your words," or, "You tell me when you get angry."
It's okay to let her know you're unhappy with her behavior by your tone of voice, just don't let your anger determine your response. Try not to yell at your child, and never hit her – even if it's just her hand – to discourage her from throwing.
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 hse 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," says Leiderman. 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," says Leiderman. 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," says Leiderman. 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," says Leiderman.
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