Toddlers are ‘coming into their own’ as they grow, and are discovering the effects of their many actions. When a behavior such as throwing items at a person occurs, most likely the response of the person will be quick and automatic. This immediate reaction results in the child getting attention. Though the attention may appear negative to an adult (e.g. yelling “no!” or “stop”, stern facial expression), it is still attention in the form of a response to the child’s behavior. This is power! The behavior continues and may increase as attention continues to be delivered. The trick is to provide attention, but shape your child’s behavior so he/she will receive it for appropriate behavior.
You want to interrupt and redirect the throwing to either another behavior or an appropriate throwing behavior. Do this while ignoring the throwing behavior…at least as much as possible! For example, instead of yelling “no” or picking up the thrown item, ignore it and move towards a fun toy and start engaging in play to peak your child’s interest. Or in some cases, just walk away and keep an eye on your toddler from afar. When throwing ceases or is NOT occurring, spend time with your child playing games such as throwing balls into clothes baskets, throwing and batting balloons to you, throwing plastic balls at plastic bowling pins. Each time he throws be exuberant! “You are throwing with balls! Look how well you do!” You want to build up the attention for appropriate behaviors. If and when the inappropriate throwing occurs keep your tone of voice calm and redirect with a question. “Oh you want to play throw? Where are your whiffle balls? Are they in your room or the playroom? Should we use the clothes basket today or Mommy’s pots to throw into?” By using these statements you are interrupting the behavior and redirecting it to an appropriate way of playing and gaining your attention. In addition you have framed your questions to include choices that your child must make. Choices provide an appropriate form of control over his environment. When throwing occurs it is very important to be careful not to respond in a reactive manner. Doing so will provide attention that may increase and maintain the behavior that you are concerned about.
If you feel strongly that a statement regarding the throwing must occur then provide it in a neutral manner and continue with the example questions above. For example: “No throwing blocks. (remove the blocks) What should we throw? The bouncy ball or the whiffle balls? Are they in your room or the playroom? Should we race?” Continue to increase your attention whenever your child is playing appropriately. Keep a simple record to see if a change occurs within 10 days of being consistent with your reactions.