Why does my toddler throw things — and what can I do about it?

Sometimes young children throw things, and there are generally three different reasons your toddler might be doing it:

  1. She’s throwing things in frustration/anger.
  2. It’s fun, and she’s figuring out cause and effect.
  3. To test limits/boundaries.

So when you’re thinking about how to handle it, the first thing you need to do is figure out the motivation behind it. Every behavior expresses a need. Is your child demonstrating a need for a safer way to handle frustration? Is she expressing a need for exploration and scientific discovery? Or is she expressing a need to understand what the rules are so she can feel safe within your boundaries?

If your child is throwing things in frustration or anger, that’s a very natural thing to do! Even as adults, how many times do we slam something down in frustration or throw up our hands and quit when we can’t get something to go our way? As adults, we know how to do it in a way that doesn’t break things or cause bodily injury — so it’s our job to help our children learn that skill.

Throwing something soft in a specific place can be a calming strategy that you have available for your child. In our house, we use a stuffed animal and it can be thrown down the steps or against the front door. When your child is throwing things in frustration (or you can tell that she is about to), try saying, “You seem like you’re frustrated. Would you like to throw the red pillow down the stairs?”

You can also model handling frustration in your daily life and give your child the vocabulary to express that. When your child is with you, don’t hide it when you’re having a hard time doing something. Instead, model taking a deep breath and trying again: “This is so frustrating! [Deep breath] I will try it again.” Then use slower, more careful movements and get it to work: “I did it!”

If your child is throwing things because it’s a fun activity, lean into that! Create some activities whose main purpose is throwing and exploring cause and effect!

Set up a throwing work. Bean bags are great because they have some heft to them, different types of balls to experiment with (ping pong balls, bouncy balls, stress balls, tennis balls, large kickballs, balloons, etc) — look for a variety of textures, sizes, and weights.  Inside the house, always have a designated space to throw those things, whether it’s a container of some kind, a hula hoop on the floor, or an X marked on the floor with painter’s tape.  A ring toss game would be fun and a bit trickier for an older child as well.  This expanding ball has always been a favorite with my kids. Get involved and make observations alongside your child: “This one is heavy! It’s more difficult to throw. I have to use all my muscles!”

If your child is throwing things to test the limits and boundaries in your household, stand firm. Have clear rules about what is okay to throw and what is not. Having consistent, firm boundaries helps your child to feel safe, because she knows what to expect. It’s your child’s job to test boundaries to make sure they’re still there, and it’s your job to hold them.

This is easiest if you have already created some throwing activities, because you can redirect your child from throwing something that is NOT okay to throw to something that is: “Food is for eating. If you are finished eating and would like to throw something, you can clean up and go throw the bean bags.”