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Throwing Things: Behind Your Toddler’s Misbehavior

Why Toddlers Toss Stuff

“Kids this age throw because they have very little impulse control,” says Tovah P. Klein, PhD, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development. “Truly, their brains are not developed enough to stop themselves.” By age three, impulse control is much more developed. But until then, if the child comes to find an object in his hand, there’s a good chance it will be thrown. It’s fun for him to test out his increasing strength. He’s also exploring the way things make a louder noise when thrown; what bounces and what breaks; and, which knick-knacks make mommy use her angry voice.

Motor control (or mobility skill level) is also still developing during year two, which accounts for your toddler’s jerky or surprising movements in general. The fine-tuning of force and direction will eventually let your child gently set a toy down when he’s finished with it, but for now, the speed with which he discards objects is unpredictable.

And, as with many toddler behaviors, if you notice him giving you a sneaky look as he drops something, he’s probably looking to get your attention and test limits. “Your toddler is testing out, ‘What does it mean to be me and have some power?’ but also, ‘What are the boundaries?'” says Klein.

What to Do

“Kids have a desire and a need to throw,” says Klein. So her advice is to give them an outlet, like a trash can that they can throw things into. “Say in a really positive but clear way, ‘I can’t let you throw it at the dog, but you can throw it in this basket.’ You’re not countering them, but you are giving a boundary.” Show them when it is and isn’t okay to throw. Just saying, “Don’t throw things!” is frustrating to a toddler, especially when he sees you toss clothes in the laundry basket.

Keep in Mind

If you notice your toddler throwing things out of anger, say, “You’re angry,” and tell them that they can stomp their feet instead. “Label [their emotion] and give them another outlet. Then you’re not setting arbitrary limits but also not shaming something that’s really natural for them,” says Klein. Interpret food-throwing as communication—your toddler is done eating—and clear his tray. “They’ll learn that you can throw Nerf balls at the basketball hoop but you can’t throw food,” says Klein. “But it happens over time.”

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