How to stop a child from throwing things

ask silvia Jan 19, 2023

(Photo 69724423 / Child © Syda Productions |

In this blog, I respond to an early years educator's recent question. 

 The Question: 
"How do you stop a child with Down Syndrome from throwing toys? We have tried a box and asked her to look in the box and show her, which she will do. But then, as soon as you don't say it, she will throw toys again. We are afraid she will hit one of her friends sitting beside her while they are playing".

Learning to throw is an important milestone in children's development, so it's common to see babies and toddlers throwing objects, which is a natural part of their development. 

From a cognitive development perspective, children are learning about cause and effectBy throwing, children learn about gravity; they observe how some objects bounce, other things break, and others make a big noise as they land on the floor. 

Throwing also develops necessary gross and fine motor skills, such as picking up and releasing objects and hand-eye coordination. 

Young children from 1 to 3 years of age find throwing things enjoyable; this activity teaches them much about their environment and what their bodies can do. Learning to throw and wanting to throw objects is a natural part of our children's development. 

Some children may continue to throw objects past this exploratory stage, which can concern parents and educators. As children attend daycare, nursery teachers may worry that the child may hurt other children if they throw objects. Parents have similar concerns at home, with children accidentally hurting siblings or breaking things at home. 

Here are some reasons why this behaviour may persist and ideas on what to do in each situation. 

Motor skills development.
As I mentioned, learning to throw is part of our children's development. Your child may be throwing as they are simply developing and practising this motor skill. In that case, offer your child plenty of opportunities to throw, but in a safe manner and place. 

Here are some ideas for throwing games:

♦️ Throwing bean bags in a box.
♦️ Throwing bean bags in the garden, encourage your child to throw the bean bag as far as possible. 
♦️ Indoor child centres have big ball pools that children love and can safely practice throwing balls.
♦️ Throwing pebbles into puddles or paddling pool.
♦️ Throw a ball back and forth.

If your child is curious about sounds, play a game throwing small blocks into a tin box. 

Delay in play skills.
Children with developmental delays often present with a delay in play skills too. Initially, children may experiment with throwing blocks, and after a while, they discover they can do different things, such as stacking them up. However, children with developmental delays may need more time to learn other ways to play with those blocks other than throwing. 

If that's the case for your child or student, sit down with them and show them other ways of using that object: blocks for stacking, shapes in the shape sorter, cars rolling down the slide, etc. It may take time for your child to learn how to play with them, so be patient. 

And if your child likes throwing games, ensure you provide opportunities to play with those often too. 

As means to communicate, "I don't want to do that".
Sometimes throwing objects can be a way of saying, "no, I don't want to do that". One of my students used to throw the tabletop work on the floor as soon as I put it on the table. As soon as I presented an activity she didn't want to do, she would quickly push it away. In that case, I changed my teaching sessions and started giving her more choices and doing more activities she liked to do. As the activities presented were what she wanted to do, she stopped throwing toys off the table. 

As an educator, I had to be patient. Of course, I wanted her to do different activities to learn new skills. But I recognised that the priority was to build a foundation for cooperationI focused on making teaching sessions easy and fun, so she would sit at the table and learn with me. Gradually, I introduced more challenging activities that she didn't push away as she enjoyed her tabletop activity sessions by that time.

It's also important to remember that children who are not speaking yet or have limited language will resource to behaviour to communicate

For example, it's dinner time, and the child has tummy pain and doesn't want to eat; they might be unable to explain, "sorry mum, I have tummy pain, and I don't want to eat right now". They may resource to throwing that bowl off the high chair to communicate they don't want to eat. 

In that case, you can demonstrate how to communicate with hand signs or picture symbols, so your child can eventually say "no" or "finished" rather than throw objects on the floor. 

Expression of emotion.
Another reason for throwing objects is emotional dysregulationYoung children experience intense emotions and don't have the skills to regulate them yet. Throwing can be a way for them to express their frustration or anger. Therefore, we should offer support at that time rather than respond with more anger.

If you observe that your child tends to throw when they have a tantrum or seem overwhelmed by emotions, respond calmly. Keep them safe, use a soft voice and, if possible, remove them from the situation that upset them in the first place. 

As a means of getting attention.
Other students might throw objects to get attention from others. 
For example, a child might play appropriately with toys for some time, but after a while, he starts throwing those toys. For some children, this can be a way of saying, "I'm done with this; I don't know what to do next," and throwing toys is asking for attention and help.

One time, one of my students threw a toy at another child in the group I was teaching. Initially, I thought it was an accident. After a while, she threw another one, and I realised she was trying to get that other child's attention. In that case, rather than focusing on "no throwing", I demonstrated how to ask, "can I play with you? with Lámh signs, and the two girls initiated a game together. 

We must be careful not to overreact when a child throws objects. By overreacting, we increase the chances of that behaviour occurring again and again. 

You certainly need to respond quickly to that behaviour, particularly if other children could be hurt. But rather than overreacting, try to react calmly, redirecting the child and showing them what to do. For example, if you see a child about to throw a block across the room, gently hold the child's hand and remind them "block in the basket". Rather than "no throwing!" tell the child what to do with it. 

 This "throwing stage" is a natural stage in children's development.

However, in some cases, it lasts longer and can be problematic as children might hurt others or break things accidentally when throwing. 

Think about the child you are working with and the reason they are throwing objects from the points above so that you can plan the right intervention

Do you want to learn more about how to prevent problem behaviour and how to respond when they occur?

I often teach a Masterclass on preventing and responding to challenging behaviours.
This Masterclass is suitable for parents and educators of children with developmental delays, Down Syndrome, intellectual disabilities, speech and language delays and autistic children from 2 to 6 years of age.


And now, it's your turn. What do you think is the reason your child is throwing objects? What strategies do you plan to use? And share with us your success story so we can continue learning from each other. 

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