Why do they do that? Throwing: Part 2 (who knew it was so complicated?!)

So, last week we talked about one reason kids throw, which is that sometimes they just don’t know what else to do with the thing that’s in their hand. That might have been a hard sell, but if you watch kiddos for long enough, I promise you will see it too.

But today let’s talk about why kids throw things on purpose and what to do about it.

Warning: it’s not because they’re bad and want to piss you off.

It’s communication.

Really, you ask. My three year old throwing things is communication? Yes. But I’ll get there in a second.

Kids start throwing things - usually food, but also toys - at about 8 or 9 months of age. And if you unwind this behavior all the way to the first time it happens, it turns out that they probably threw food because they were finished eating. Not only that: they were finished eating and ….you didn’t notice! (Oops!)

If we think about your average 9-month old, let’s look at their communication toolset. Up till now, it’s been smiling when happy and fussing/crying when not happy, right? But, now that they are gaining control of their hands and trunk, and can sit up while also holding things, they have another tool in their belt: throwing!

It’s the perfect tool - it gets lightning fast results with a minimum of upset (for the child).

And, it has the added bonus of triggering a hilarious (for the child) interaction with the caregiver. Here’s the script I imagine in the mind of a 9-month old.

“Can’t they tell I’m done? I’ve been sitting here for 3 whole minutes and my belly is full, and I’m bored and I want to play with my toys. What does a person have to do to get some help getting out of this damn chair?! How about I help out by getting rid of this offensive mess on my tray. Maybe over the side? [throws the food] oh! That worked well! Here comes my grownup and they have a funny expression on their face! I bet they’re coming to play!”

Or something like that.

Do you see how our reactions to the first round of throwing can set up a future where throwing is common?

So what’s a parent to do?

Watch, watch and watch some more. When you see that your little one is starting to act like they want out of the chair, catch it before they resort to throwing. Easier said than done, I know.

If you miss it, and the food ends up on the floor, see if you can not react that time and then catch it next time.

Also easier said than done! But that’s the gig with small ones: countless opportunities in every day to practice, watch and change our responses to our kids so that we can help them become themselves and figure out how to be humans.

Ok, so now back to your three, four and five year old. Why are they still throwing? Well…. it’s probably an old pattern that has gotten them a response in the past and maybe still gets them one. It’s worked this long, so they keep doing it. It could be that in order to get your three year old to stop throwing things, you’ll have to change your reaction when they do throw. It’s also likely that you’ll need to increase the amount of “good attention” that you’re giving your child. Catch them being good, as the saying goes.

What are your thoughts on throwing? Does your child throw anything in particular that sets you off? What do you do when that happens?

I’d love to hear from you.