Toddler Play

Why Does My Toddler Throw Toys Instead of Playing With Them?

If wondering why your toddler loves to throw toys instead of playing with them, you’re not alone. This is very common toddler behavior.

We’ve all been there. You hand your toddler a gorgeous new toy to play with. Instantly, she pitches it to the floor like it was a hot potato. You sit there, frustrated, wondering what went wrong. You were sure she would love that toy. Maybe you even got a disapproving frown from other people who saw what your toddler did.

Should I worry about my toddler throwing toys?

Here’s the good news. It’s not you, it’s not your kid, and it’s not the toy either. It is normal for toddlers to sometimes throw toys instead of playing with them.

Throwing toys is part of what early childhood educators call the trajectory schema. Schemas are patterns of behavior that researchers found, based on observations of young kids in play.

The whole toddlers throwing things is a normal developmental milestone, too. It even has a name if you look it up in a medical book – it is called casting. Around the 12 months mark, there’s a list of things you can expect from your child, and this is one of them.

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When we do a developmental assessment of a child who is around this age, we check for this. We want to see that they really do know how to throw a block or a ball, and not simply drop it from their hands. So this behavior that may seem frustrating for us as moms is actually an important test item!

Alert! If you have an older child who still constantly throws things, you should bring this up with your pediatrician.

Also, no matter what age, your child should be playing with her toys in different ways. If all she does is throw them, and she does not do anything else with them, you should also tell your pediatrician.

Why do Toddlers Throw Toys?

So now that we know it’s a normal developmental milestone, why does this happen? As it turns out, toddlers LEARN when they throw toys! Here are some of the things they learn from this.

Motor skills

When toddlers throw toys, they learn and develop their motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Remember when you were learning to shoot a basketball through a hoop, or trying to hit a tennis ball with a racket? This is your toddler’s version of that.

Cause and effect

Toddlers also learn cause and effect.  Your child is like a scientist. He is testing the world.  He is thinking, If I do this, what happens? Psychology Jean Piaget called it a tertiary circular reaction. This is a perfect example.

Throwing toys are also classified as a type of play called the trajectory schema. Toddlers love doing this type of play! So your child isn’t really “throwing toys instead of playing with them”. It is actually more accurate to say that one of the ways your toddler plays with toys is by throwing them.

Object permanence

Lastly, there’s object permanence. This means your child learns that things still exist even if they don’t see them. They start realizing this at 8-10 months. So they throw a toy and have a blast checking the floor to see that it’s still there. It’s the same instinct that makes peekaboo so much fun!

What can you do about it?

Here are a few tips to help you cope when your toddler throws toys instead of playing with them.

  • Direct your child to something he can throw. A soft ball (around the size of a tennis ball) is a great example.
  • Set limits to where she can throw. Walls are okay, sofas are fine, but no throwing things at people and pets.
  • Make sure you use child-safe utensils, as these are top candidates for throwing. Now, I’ve seen some people on the internet say that if you use glass plates and cups, your child will learn to stop throwing. Sorry, but that’s just a recipe for frustration. Wait for them to be out of the throwing stage before you do this.

Finally, give them plenty of attention when they are not throwing things. Their little scientist brain will quickly realize that they don’t need to throw things just to get your attention.

soft ball around the size of a tennis ball that's perfect for a one year old who loves to throw toys
A soft ball that’s around the size of a tennis ball is a perfect object for your child to practice throwing.

Recommended reading: Five Tips for Stress-Free Toddler Activities

Above all, remember it is a phase they will come through. It should be better by the time they turn two years old. By then, they will be past the throwing stage. They will move on to other ways of learning, and more adventures to come!

About the author: Dr. Victoria Nolasco is developmental and behavioral pediatrician, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics, certified positive discipline parent coach, and mom of a toddler. Her blog, Effective Mommy, is dedicated to helping toddler moms break parenting myths and achieve happy and confident parenting.

Want easy, no-prep toddler activities that actually work?

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