In this first article on Toddler Development, I’m going to share a piece of little-known behavioural science, that will give you Jedi-like powers to control and entertain your toddler.
Putting together information learnt from child psychologists, behavioural scientists, early years education providers, and experienced parents; along with my own experience; this article is going to help you better understand these common childhood behaviours and learn more about the toddler in your life. Our first topic addresses the question; Why do Toddlers throw things?
We are going to be looking into the emerging Behavioural Science behind toddler phases, known as “Schema”, learning why toddlers seem to exhibit certain behaviours, why toddlers throw tantrums, how to encourage good behaviours, promote their development, how to curtail the less desirable behaviours, and most importantly avoid the dreaded toddler tantrum.
Finally, we will look at some gift ideas perfect for the toddler who loves to throw things, beyond the obvious, of a ball of course!
Here Comes The Science Bit: What is a Schema?
Schemas are groups of linked behaviours and patterns of play which scientists have grouped together and related to the stages of development and interests of children. It’s believed there are over a dozen different schemas, each which classify a particular stage or ‘fascination’ a child will go through.
Toddlers will naturally develop strange obsessions or seemingly odd ways to play with toys as their way of learning and understanding the world around them. Knocking down towers, arranging their toys a certain way and repeating actions to name a few. You will probably already be familiar with these types of behaviours, and more usually people will excuse the behaviour “oh it’s just a phase”. But there is much more to the strange ways of a toddler than first meets their eye and understanding and identifying schema is the key to providing appropriate toys and activities to the individual child to keep them entertained, engaged, and tantrum-free.
Every child is different and some may display more than one schema at a time. However, by closely observing your toddler you can identify a particular schema, and choose toys and activities which match that schema. These will naturally hold your child’s interest, help them with a developmental stage and can be used to manage difficult behaviour which is otherwise a normal part of toddler life.
As a parent of a toddler aged 2.5, anything that gives an insight into the mind of a preschooler is helpful to be able to explain and understand the things they do too!
So Why Won’t My Toddler Stop Throwing Things?
A toddler that is more interested in throwing their toys around than ‘playing’ with them is displaying classic signs of the Trajectory Schema. This is an extremely common developmental phase and is best described as the exploration of movement & forces, I’ve also seen it described as a “multi-dimensional urge”! In the early years of life nearly all learning is done through movement so don’t be disheartened or feel like your toddler isn’t playing with his toys correctly
Throwing toys, food (or anything they can get their hands on) would be a prime example of this, but there are other behaviours to look out for too.
Essentially when a child is in the trajectory phase they are exploring the laws of physics. Any actions to do with movement and forces are fascinating to them, try to imagine them as little scientists conducting experiments rather than a Tasmanian devil hell-bent on destruction!
Throwing, kicking and hitting of objects are classic signs that your toddler is in a trajectory phase. Dropping items from up high (food over the side of the high chair is a favourite!) would be another indicator. You may also notice them climbing onto furniture, jumping up and down, and sliding down things repeatedly. Another sign is an obsession with running water and taps.
Children who show signs of trajectory schema tend to be very active, with high energy levels and will definitely enjoy physical activities and moving around.
How To Stop a Toddler Throwing Things
Left to their own devices, a toddler with an interest in all things trajectory can be somewhat destructive, since they are unlikely to want to sit quietly and play with a jigsaw, preferring instead to throw the pieces around. They will turn every activity into an opportunity to run, climb, jump and move objects around.
The key to stopping a toddler throwing things is to direct their interest in movement towards positive and educational activities which utilise their desire to move themselves and objects, satisfy their inner physicist and test their problem-solving skills in these areas. Simply telling them to stop throwing will usually not work, while in the trajectory schema their brain is wired to seek out activities which feed the desire to learn more about movements. So instead distract their attention to a toy or activity that will safely allow them to explore their passion for movement.
Outside activities such as ball games, blowing bubbles, gardening (digging and watering), visiting a playpark and a sandpit are ideal.
For indoor activities, try balloons or juggling scarfs. Bath-time provides plenty of opportunities to play with the movement of water. Other toys to look for are those with ramps such as marble runs along with cars and trains.
Gift Ideas for the Toddler Who Loves Throwing Things
If can identify the trajectory schema behaviours in your child, choosing a gift they will love becomes easy! Anything that involves movement, particularly vertical/up-down movement or moving their own body will be a hit. Read on for some gift suggestions and recommendations:
A soft foam ball that can be safely thrown around indoors is a simple solution for rainy days. Look for a small, 4″ size ball to minimise the risk of damage. Look for something really lightweight so there’s no chance of that heirloom vase being knocked over. Juggling / Dancing Sensory Scarves are another recommended option. A ball pit can work wonders to contain the throwing activity.
Recommended: Set of 3 Pillow Balls, Soccer Design, 4″
The movement of the sand grains will be sure to keep your toddlers’ attention and a sandpit also makes a great racetrack! I prefer a sand table rather than a Sand Pit, it’s a little easier to clean up and helps keep toddlers out of the mess too, for added value look for a model that features a water play area too.
Recommended: Step2 Cascading Cove Sand and Water Table
Similar to the sandpit, moving soil around will catch the attention of a toddler who is very much into throwing things. A little set of toddler gardening tools can transform your wayward toddler into a gardening superstar helper – you’ll soon have them digging a trench for sowing seeds or removing weeds (don’t let them near your prized petunias!).
Pipe Building Bath Set
Help your toddler build a pipe course and then feed water through, your toddler will love seeing the water rushing out at the end and pouring it in over and over. This is a great educational toy and will come in useful when your toddler is experiencing other schema phases too.
Recommended: Boon Pipe Building Bath Toy
Similiar to the pipe set for the bath, but more fun with your clothes on! Due to the marbles being a choking hazard keep these for the older (3+) toddlers. If you can stretch the budget, go for a Wooden Marble Run, they are much better made, whereas the plastic versions tend to be flimsy and you can find the pieces don’t fit together so well. This is a toy with a lot of longevity and a favourite with children as they grow older too, so it’s worth it to invest in a quality set.
Mini Indoor Trampoline
I’d recommend this a necessity for every toddler. Just a small space-saving model (which you can even keep indoors) is all that is needed to tire out a toddler with energy to burn. The up and down motion will satisfy their trajectory needs and save home furnishings from taking a pounding.
Recommended: Little Tikes 3′ Trampoline
For more ideas of Educational Toys suited to the under 5’s, check out these other articles:
In summary, a toddler who won’t stop throwing things is most likely in a perfectly normal developmental stage.
They are learning about their world and as their brain develops they are fascinated with the study of the laws of physics.
They will have a fascination with any activities and toys that involve movements – in particularly vertical up-down movements. They can easily be distracted from throwing objects by involving them in other more positive educational activities that allow them to explore movement in a more constructive way! By directing their play towards experimenting with movements and forces you can channel their toddler energies into less destructive learning experiences.
And next time you’re at that toddler playgroup and your toddler is chucking everything around, now at least, you know that they are simply exploring their multi-dimensional urges – as you duck from the flying building blocks headed towards you!
Did you find this article useful? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments of Toddler Trajectory Behaviour and tips you have to share!