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Toddler behavior - throwing things but not out of anger - what to do?
April 20, 2012 9:00 AM   Subscribe

My 16 month old son throws his cup or his food when he no longer wants it. Not emotional, not a tantrum, definitely willful. The boy looks us straight in the eye and throws. He doesn't seem to respond to a harsh "No!" or the more empathetic, gentle "we set our cup down nicely" approach. I am assuming this is pretty standard kid behavior, but is there anyway to curtail this behavior in a kind, constructive and effective manner? He is pretty happy, easy going little guy, right now.
posted by flesti to Human Relations (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
EVERY kid goes through this.

A few things you could try:
- Teach him the "all done" sign so he can communicate with you when he's done.
- Give him some alternative behavior like handing the cup/food to you.
- Immediately end the meal when he throws.
- Give him a "baby time out" by turning his seat around so he can't see you, or taking him out and placing him on the floor away from you for a few moments.

And just stay calm, which it sounds like you're already doing -- you don't want to reward this behavior with a big reaction.
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:11 AM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is absolutely normal. Children are scientists and you are the test subjects in his latest expiriment. Next time he throws the cup on the floor, leave it on the floor. When he wants a drink, guess what, kid? Tough shit, life has consequences. No need to dramatize the situation, just stop reacting and he'll move on to other expirimentation.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:16 AM on April 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe he's getting bored. See what happens if you take the meal away as soon as he starts to show flagging interest
posted by lakeroon at 9:20 AM on April 20, 2012


It sounds like he's doing it mostly to get a reaction out of you. Kids that age are fascinated with learning how to manipulate things in their environment, including both the physics of gravity and their parents' emotions! You might find that the best way to deal with this is to steadfastly ignore it. He'll learn the gravity thing pretty quickly and become bored with it, and "I can really get their attention by throwing things" is not a lesson that you want learned in the first place.
posted by drlith at 9:24 AM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Agreed above, every kid goes through it.

I have a 2.4 year old and she still does it, although rarely. How we broke her was just being consistent on signing all done and reminding her that we do not throw things. She started doing it earlier in her meal though so we gave her 1 chance and gave her the cup. Second time rolled around, too bad. That works pretty good even now.
posted by NotSoSimple at 9:25 AM on April 20, 2012


We taught our 18 month old that when he's done, he puts his cup in the sink. It's fun for him to drop it in and make a huge bang.

Also, when he's done with something, we cheer and say "all done, hooooray!" and we all clap.

Of course, 50% of the time, none of this works, and he ends up dumping the rest of his water out on his table and playing in it...sooooo.......
posted by katypickle at 9:25 AM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Next time he throws the cup on the floor, leave it on the floor. When he wants a drink, guess what, kid? Tough shit, life has consequences. No need to dramatize the situation, just stop reacting and he'll move on to other expirimentation.

The 10th Regiment of Foot, the hole in your plan is the assumption that he will keenly put that event in the future together with his current actions. Maybe, maybe not.

Immediately stopping his entire meal (or giving him "time out" facing away from everyone) provides an immediate, undesirable effect.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:28 AM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


This, some would say, is why the good Lord invented spanking.

Even if you think that hitting your kid is an okay way to teach, a 16-month-old is basically still a baby. What do you think a person that little gets out of that experience? Nothing. Terror and pain. It is not possible for a 16-month-old to draw the complicated lines from "This is happening because I did that; I should not do that again."

I have this theory that a lot of parents mis-attribute normal developmental changes to their superior or failed parenting. "My child used to dump food on the floor and now they don't, that's because I did X."

Okay, but also, your kid used to be a toddler and now they aren't. So much of what we fret about will pass by itself as the clockwork spring of development unwinds and the child matures.

The times in my life as a parent when I am having a hard time are when I decide to view my child's normal development as "willful" or "defiant"; when I decide to frame what he is doing because he is two years old as somehow personal and having moral weight, or something that I can change by pitting my own will against his. The times when I am awesome as a parent are when I remember that all toddlers do X and this too shall pass.

I read somewhere that a family's rule was "Don't put more in the bowl that you're willing to clean up". I have found that vaguely helpful. I monitor my kid when he has a cup of water or a bowl of fruit. I try to control the environment in order to make good "choices" easy. And I frequently fail! But when I remember that my main goal is to just not get into pointless little power struggles with him ("Don't you dare turn over that bowl!") we all have a better time.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 9:39 AM on April 20, 2012 [64 favorites]


The only advice I have to offer is make him pick it up. When my two went through that phase, I would scold them, get them out of the highchair and have them help me pick up the food or cup.

I viewed it as a phase and a chance to teach them manners, cleaning up and why we don't throw food. They eventually grew out of it and I didn't have to clean up spaghetti off the floor by myself.
posted by Sweetmag at 9:48 AM on April 20, 2012


My kid (2.3 yrs) did this last night. Cup full of water. Lightbulb moment: I said "uh oh!" and handed him a towel and asked him to clean it up like daddy does. He LOVED cleaning it all up. Did such a great job.

Then he did it 2 more times and we had a brief "uh oh...time out" session. :-) But, small steps...we're getting there. He's become very responsive to the phrase "time out" and tends to calm down a bit when we bring it up.

I guess no matter what we do, tired, grumpy kids will always find a way to make their frustration known.
posted by circular at 9:49 AM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Any reaction, positive or negative, is just feeding the attention-seeking behavior. That's why he's looking you in the eye as he does it; he knows it gets a reaction out of you. Just calmly pick up the cup and place it on his tray, no smiling, no remonstrance. If he does it again, the cup disappears, with no smiling, no remonstrance.

He's not doing this to piss you off, he's just figuring out causation. Right now if he throws the cup, someone reacts! Even better, you guys have been cycling through different reactions, so it's kind of a fun surprise! Do Mom and Dad say NO this time, or do they talk in gentle tones, or will they do something fun and new? WHO KNOWS LET'S FIND OUT.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:55 AM on April 20, 2012 [33 favorites]


We have found that the only effective way to deal with our toddler throwing things (whether his cup, food, toys, whatever) is to not react in any way except to take the object that was thrown away. If it's a toy, we'll say "Oh, too bad, that block/book/puzzle has to go to jail, because we don't throw things," and we put it in a visible but inaccessible place and he doesn't get it back for 24 hours. As soon as he learned that that's what happens EVERY time he threw something, it kinda lost its appeal.
posted by agent99 at 9:59 AM on April 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


a harsh "No!"

Attention!

empathetic, gentle "we set our cup down nicely"

Attention!

Attention is fun. It is fun to do something in order to get a response. Hearing "no" or "we set our cup down nicely" does him no harm, and gets your attention.

Next time he throws the cup, don't look at him; simply pick up the cup and put it away, then go back to what you were doing. He will learn quickly -- provided you're consistent -- that throwing the cup equals losing the cup, and that will be that.
posted by davejay at 10:12 AM on April 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


When Toddler theBRKP went through this stage, I stopped the meal, got him down off his chair and had him pick up the food and throw it away, before he could continue eating. I did this every time he threw food, no matter the reason, no matter where we were (in our home, out in public restaurant or in the home of a friend/family member). He learned pretty quickly not to throw food.

As for other items, we are still working on as we do allow a low level of rough housing and he is still learning when and what is ok. The only exception is that stuff that he throws at me while we are in the car goes straight into the trash, no exceptions.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 10:25 AM on April 20, 2012


It is not possible for a 16-month-old to draw the complicated lines from "This is happening because I did that; I should not do that again."

This is profoundly untrue.
posted by Dasein at 10:34 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Immediately stopping his entire meal (or giving him "time out" facing away from everyone) provides an immediate, undesirable effect.

OP's child is too young for time outs.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:57 AM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Immediately stopping his entire meal (or giving him "time out" facing away from everyone) provides an immediate, undesirable effect.

He's just looking for an effect, positive or negative. If you don't give him a reaction, he's just going to find something else to do. Start giving him punishments and he's going to keep pushing it to find out where the line is drawn. Of course, the other drawback is that he will keep expiriments going until he does find a reaction point.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:04 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is not possible for a 16-month-old to draw the complicated lines from "This is happening because I did that; I should not do that again."

My 8wo puppy was able to draw those complicated lines. I know puppies grow up faster than human babies, but I really doubt 16mo's are that ... vegetal.

That being said, a SHIT-TON of research shows that violent feedback almost invariably has negative consequences. In 99% of the cases of misbehavior (and perhaps more), there is a nonviolent feedback that would have better results. (Where "better" = faster, more permanent, less prone to further acting out.) Spanking for mild misbehavior - and a bad habit the child is exploring IS a mild misbehavior - simply does not call for even mildly violent feedback.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:06 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


OP's child is too young for time outs.

DarlingBri, I was actually referring to chickenmagazine's "baby time out" -
- Give him a "baby time out" by turning his seat around so he can't see you, or taking him out and placing him on the floor away from you for a few moments.

- but to be fair, I don't have a kid, and defer to your judgment.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:09 AM on April 20, 2012


Pick a response (ignore him, get cup, set it down OR sharp "No," remove cup, for example) and stick with it over and over and over. It will take a week or so. One helpful thing to remember: He is doing his job. It is his absolute primal mission to learn how to be "other" from his parents, and how to do that is to test and test and test the boundaries, rules, etc. And to see how serious you are about them! It is your job to set him straight.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:10 AM on April 20, 2012


cup with a lid and only a couple of swallows worth of liquid.
posted by kristymcj at 11:21 AM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


One thing that has helped for us is having the dinner table next to his tray. So instead of chucking the food or cup when he's done, he puts it on the table (the food hopefully on a plate on said table). When he gets mad or REEELLLY REEELLYY DONEZ and starts shoving everything off his tray, we scramble to scoop it all away and give him a few moments to calm down and recenter.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:31 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tie the cup to the highchair and use one of those bowls with sucker feet so he can't get it off the tray. Problem solved and by the time you untie the cup, he'll have grown out of this phase anyway.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:36 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


What? No one else was a Skinner Baby? This is where Positive Reinforcement comes in. M&Ms or any other small, tasty treat work great for this.

Whenever you catch your son doing something right, such as putting something back where it belongs, not dumping paint on the cat, or whatever, say, "Great Job!" and slip him an M&M. Just a small sweet and praise. You'll have to work pretty hard to catch him doing the right thing, as he's most probably into everything and eating dirt right now.

Waking up from a nap with a smiley face, M&M. He'll start looking for ways to earn the M&Ms. Next time he's in the chair, give him an M&M when he puts the cup down. "Great Job!" Candy.

My Dad, a behavioral therapist did this with my sister and I, and it works great. Don't punish the bad behavior, reward the good behavior.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:10 PM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


> We taught our 18 month old that when he's done, he puts his cup in the sink. It's fun for him to drop it in and make a huge bang.

This is brilliant.

> The times in my life as a parent when I am having a hard time are when I decide to view my child's normal development as "willful" or "defiant"; when I decide to frame what he is doing because he is two years old as somehow personal and having moral weight, or something that I can change by pitting my own will against his.

And this is wise.
posted by desuetude at 1:42 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


We taught our son the sign for "all done" when he was about 11 months old. He's now 18 months old and uses it regularly and if we take notice of it promptly, no throwing happens. He also places his cup and plate on the table next to him when he's done now because that's where I put his stuff when he's signed all done. It took a LOT of repetition, but as long as I pay attention to his cues, all is well 99% of the time.

This is just a toddler experimenting. He's not being naughty or willful or defiant. I think punishing is out of line for a child that young.
posted by chiababe at 3:07 PM on April 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


M&Ms or any other small, tasty treat work great for this.

Hmmm, I dunno if I would recommend a) giving a baby candy, and b) linking food - especially candy - to emotional situations like that at such a young age. Maybe I'm oversensitive, but that seems needlessly fraught with unhealthiness and the potential to create a weird relationship with food.
posted by smoke at 6:20 PM on April 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


When my kid is in a throwing mood, I watch for him to pick up a thing and get that look like he's about to chuck it, and then I say, "Eustace, would you set your cup down on the table please? Yes, just set it right there, THANK YOU! That was SO NICE! You are SO POLITE! Would you like another bite of pie?" Direct, praise, distract. And try to chat with him and keep his attention on the meal, so his mind doesn't wander to thoughts of chucking.
posted by milk white peacock at 9:41 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read somewhere that a family's rule was "Don't put more in the bowl that you're willing to clean up".

Indeed. See what happens when you give tiny tiny portions. I have a 17 month old who likes to overturn cups and bowls all the dang time. She wants to dump the water? Ok then, she gets an ounce or less in that cup. And a cloth to "help" clean up the spill.

I'll give her a bowl with two crackers (or ten cheerios or three berries or whatever it is) in it and she'll do this thing where she dumps it out on the floor and then very carefully puts it all back in, dumps it out again, puts it in, ad infinitum. It's great fun, apparently. The take-it-out-put-it-back-in game is fun to play with the shape sorter thingy, why not with the pretzels?

Whoever said that babies are little scientists, sorting out cause and effect, has got it just right. Set them up to minimize the mess, sure, and be consistent in modelling what TO DO, rather than what NOT to do (i.e., snacks are for eating, when we make a mess we clean it up) and try not to make it into a battle of wills.
posted by fancyoats at 7:41 AM on April 21, 2012


Toddlers are hi-LAR-ious.
Or, at least they sure seem to think so.

So - do the 'no attention' thing in the most ridiculous, over-the-top way possible.
Once they are naughty, I stop looking them in the eye. As in, I'll turn my head away, and if I have to do anything, do it with my head turned at an odd 90 degree angle. That's right kiddo! This isn't an accident, this is - No attention til you're good!
Of course, being small scientists (that is so, so accurate. Even good kids feel like they have to explore all the things they shouldn't do), they might try and rapidly be good/bad/good/bad to see if I'll turn towards them and back, but the second time they do this, I do a "I'm bored now", and wander off, or just talk to adults. When they try and get my attention, I'll tell them I only pay attention to good children, and possibly that they have to do "this & this" etc.

When I am around friends, and their kids misbehave, I turn my head and pretend I'm not in the room until all parenting has been completed, and kid is being good again.

I am the most boring person in the world with a naughty child. Conversely, I have several 5 year olds who are super excited to clean the house with me.
Most of my actions are exaggerated around small children, but I am sincere in it, so they don't appear to feel they are being mocked or patronised (which is a problem), and I will take any questions they have seriously - in the vein of, they are small scientists learning a new language and culture, and why yes, it is fascinating that this is a yellow apple like a lemon.

On a side track, I also failed to respond to high pitched self-entertainment-noises while my nephew was pre-verbal. I just pretended I was deaf to those sorts of sounds, and then talked to him in a deep bass-like voice until he mimicked me, then got SUPER excited.
posted by Elysum at 8:39 PM on April 23, 2012


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