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IN THE THROES OF THROWING THINGS

Q. Help -- my 22-month-old daughter throws everything. If she is holding something, and I ask her nicely to put it down or give it to me, she throws it. What can I do?
-- Tracy Stofflet, Scottsdale, Ariz.

A. A toddler's playful antics are enough to make any mother throw up her hands and wonder what's coming next.

"Throwing things for pleasure is an enormously delightful game for toddlers," says Linda Mayes, an associate professor of child psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center.

What brings glee to a toddler -- tossing anything within reach, running away, shouting no at every turn -- is normal behavior, experts say. There's no detour around this developmental stage, but patience, praise for good behavior and diversionary tactics make it easier to endure.

"See the stage for what it is," says James Windell, author of "Children Who Say No When You Want Them to Say Yes" (Macmillan, $12).

Toddlers are too young to be expected to respond to verbal commands or to know when a game has run its course, says Windell, a psychologist in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. They haven't developed self-control. Porcelain and plastic, indoor and outdoor play -- they're all the same to an active toddler.

"How to throw, where to throw, what to throw -- toddlers just don't know," he says.

It's up to parents to set up the rules, then teach them to their kids, Ms. Mayes says.

"The mother should try and teach the baby how to put things down and then how to give things," says Elizabeth, a reader from Phoenix, Ariz.

The first thing to do is put breakable objects out of a toddler's reach and stock up on patience, Windell suggests. Extra patience helped one reader make it through the throwing stage with three children.

"I would get their hand and escort them to the object they threw, kneel down to their level, look them in the eye and explain why you don't throw things," says Kelly Shepard of Dallas. "You just have to have patience."

Instead of getting into losing battles, reward a child as she learns the house rules and ignore behavior that you cannot tolerate, Ms. Mayes suggests.

A simple phrase -- "Amy, thank you" -- was reward enough to get one toddler to stop throwing things and hand them to her mother, says Scherlee Karp, a reader from Scottsdale, Ariz.

Explaining what's going on throughout the day is one of the most effective ways to teach a toddler, the experts say. Even though you may feel like you're "sportscasting your day," Ms. Mayes says, keep the explanations positive. Avoid power struggles with statements such as: "Oh, dear, here goes that brush again. Mommy's tired of picking this brush up."

Along with frequent explanations, phrase your directions in a positive way, too, such as "hand the box to me" instead of "don't throw the box," Windell says. Then divert the child's attention to a favorite toy or book.

"Distraction works pretty well with a lot of toddlers," he says.

Be prepared to make a quick trade to get something away from your toddler by keeping a small toy or a dangling key ring in your pocket, he says.

Reader Sherrie Yurk of Tempe, Ariz., suggests that a parent play ball with a child to "channel her urge to throw."

That's one fun way to teach a toddler what types of throwing you approve of, Windell says. He suggests another simple teaching game: Pick out several objects and say: "I'm going to put these down as quietly as I can. Now you try it."

Can you help?

SEX GAMES: "Our third-grade son told us that a young teen-ager in the neighborhood has a club, and as part of the initiation, he has had the smaller boys engage in sex games with him," one reader says. "Some of the games he described are very disturbing. How can we tell if our son has been psychologically scarred? How should we handle this?"

Child Life is a forum for parents to ask child-rearing questions and share tips with other parents. If you have advice, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2322 Hales Road, Raleigh, N.C. 27608, or send e-mail to bevmills@aol.com

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