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My 4-year-old boy will sit and listen, read and play all fine. However, he suddenly started to throw things as a ‘game’. It’s so hard to stop him. I tried to read up about it but most websites describe an anger tantrum which he isn’t having. I tell him it’s not okay to throw things, and he says ‘but mommy I am playing’. What can I do with this? Things I have tried:

  1. Take away the object he is throwing (but he finds something else).
  2. Tell him that throwing is not nice. He listens but after a while he goes back to throwing things.
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    Have you tried consequences (e.g. a time out)? If so, what is the consequence? How did he respond?
    – anongoodnurse
    Nov 5, 2021 at 3:29
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    I am not a fan of timeouts but I will admit I have tried it with him. I made him sit in a corner to re-enforce that this is not the right thing to do. He cried and stopped throwing. 10-15 mins later he was throwing again. Nov 5, 2021 at 13:45
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    I think your problem is that you are unwilling to lay down consequences. 4-year-olds are definitely old enough to understand that if you keep giving in then they will keep taking advantage of you.
    – user21820
    Nov 5, 2021 at 18:38
  • I love it that he loves to throw. Encourage it, and give him something he can and may throw (Libra's answer is good). He may become a good pitcher ;-). Nov 6, 2021 at 12:54
  • The reason I say that is that a strong urge to do something may be an indicator. See Ken Robinson's education TED talk, when he recounts the story of Gillian Lynne. Nov 6, 2021 at 13:32

3 Answers 3

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Have you tried giving him something that he can throw?

We had a similar problem every now and then, when kindergarten was closed. When our child (3 years) threw their toys, we explained to them that the toys will break / will hit other things that may break. We then showed them where and with what they may throw. For instance, they were allowed to play with a soft ball or stuffed animal (which subsequently needed 'medical' help). They also had rules about where and how throwing was okay, e.g., in the hallway, her room, not to throw at the tv.

When we were concerned about their throwing, we took them aside, explained our concerns and directed them where and how they could continue. It worked very well. No disciplining necessary.

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    I haven’t tried to give him something to throw - will try this, thank you. Nov 5, 2021 at 13:47
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    Other suggestion: Outside is a great place to throw things, provided you have a reasonably safe yard to play in. Get some throwable things - balls, frisbees, toy glider planes, etc., but make sure that they live in a box for "outside toys" - insist that the box is only for playing outside but have other (hopefully soft and squishy) stuff for inside. Nov 5, 2021 at 19:16
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    This has been helpful in the past couple days. We have asked him to throw a particular pillow (away from the kitchen). One other thing that helped was to ask him what he is feeling at that moment. ‘Can you tell me what you are feeling? Let’s talk about how you feel’. A lot of times he said he is bored - so redirecting him to a new thing to do has helped as well. Nov 6, 2021 at 20:21
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I believe @Libranova's answer is brilliant! So I upvoted, and if it's the most helpful, please accept it as the answer.

I'm going to address the issue of throwing.

However he just suddenly begins to throw things as a ‘game’.

It is a game. It's called Getting Mommy's Attention. Sometimes the game is called Getting a (Strong) Reaction out of Mommy. The stronger, the better. It is true that negative attention is better than none, and also true that at this age, they are testing independence, so can be defiant and bossy.

Kids respond well to praise, so if you want a positive reinforcement to not throwing things, one possibility is a sticker chart. For every, say, half hour that he doesn't throw anything, he puts a sticker on his sticker chart. At the end of the day, he can trade a number of stickers for something he likes/wants: an extra bedtime story, a visit from the tickle monster, whatever. But it has to be a decent number of stickers (say, 20). Before starting this, it should all be explained in a way a 4 y.o. can understand, and it needs to be consistent. And the reward needs to be "extra": if he usually gets a visit with the tickle monster, this is a second visit. The parent will know the best rewards, and you're going for behavior control, not sadness, guilt or anger. Not earning enough stickers should be met with a loving response ("I know you want an extra story, and that you're sad that you're not getting one. I'm sad too, because I love you, and I want you to be happy. So maybe tomorrow, I can help you to get more stickers by setting a timer for every half hour? Let's try that.")

You stated you're not a fan of time outs. Lots of people agree with you. But the true purpose of time outs isn't to punish, it's to learn consequences, reflect and gain the ability to control oneself. It's a form of behavioral control, not psychological control. Behavioral control (setting boundaries for behavior) is good for children. Psychological control (using guilt, making a child feel bad about themselves, etc.) is not. One addresses behavior, the other addresses the child's self.

Time outs are a lot of work, and they need to be applied consistently to work. I recommend 1-2-3 Magic by Dr. Phalen. It was given to me by my Pediatrician when I first gave birth (it was a pamphlet back then!) and it's a method I highly recommend. I used it on my kids, and now it's being used on my grandkids.

I still like the idea of things he can throw. :) I hope it solves the issue. If he's throwing for attention or a reaction, however, it might not work. Good luck!

Article about behavioral vs. psychological control (I love Dr. Darling, but then I would... it fits my parenting style, and my kids had chores...)

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    I'm a bit torn about this answer. I like that it's concrete advice that may help parents solve specific situations. What I don't like is that it sounds too much like a Skinner box. The advice is to condition the child. Especially "I love you but you force me to do that" is a pattern that sounds almost abusive (I enhanced it a tad to show what I mean). Yes, conditioning is part of an education, but it should be part of natural interaction. The child sees that I'm genuinely angry or sad -- or happy --, and learns from that. Simulating this is inauthentic and lacks love. Nov 6, 2021 at 19:19
  • Thank you for the book recommendation! Nov 6, 2021 at 20:18
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica - In enhancing, you turned it into something psychological, which it is not. There's no simulation; when my child is unhappy, I am unhappy. Someone once told me, "You're only as happy as your saddest child." My kids are grown and have their own families now, and that stills holds true. A parent seeing a child running out into the street without looking doesn't wait around to see what lesson the child will learn. We need to teach them how to interact a the world with rules. Letting them misbehave to give them agency is to raise an entitled kid, not a responsible one.
    – anongoodnurse
    Nov 7, 2021 at 18:00
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Use the method of Alan Kazdin (Kazdin & Rotella, 2013):

  • Find the desired (positive) behavior. In your case, it is finishing playing without throwing things. This is what you are trying to promote.

  • Praise the positive behavior. Be specific in your praise, stay close to the child, use physical touch, praise immediately after a stretch of not throwing things, and do this enthusiastically.

  • Praise baby steps toward the positive behavior.

  • Use punishment sparingly, if at all, since it is less effective than praise.

  • If the desired behavior does not happen by itself, do simulations/games where the child is pretending to do something you want. In your case, play together and finish by asking the child to put the toy back in its place when done. Praise the child for the desired behavior. In this case, praise for putting the toys away without throwing them.

  • Use antecedents. In your case, remind the child at various times before the child is done playing and has a chance to throw things to "remember to play without throwing", "remember to be nice to your teddy bear when you are done playing", etc.

REFERENCES:

Book:
Alan E. Kazdin and Carlo Rotella, The Everyday Parenting Toolkit: The Kazdin Method for Easy, Step-by-Step, Lasting Change for You and Your Child. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013: https://www.amazon.com/Everyday-Parenting-Toolkit-Step-Step/dp/0547985541/

Videos:
Everyday Parenting - Praise Technique: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lK9L8r2U1XE
Kazdin method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vp6khwx2zv0

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  • Also, please see excellent answers by anongoodnurse and Libranova (upvoted both). Nov 5, 2021 at 17:27
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    Upvoted yours as well. I love the way you always give helpful links, too!
    – anongoodnurse
    Nov 5, 2021 at 23:22
  • It would be sad if he stopped throwing. Nov 6, 2021 at 12:55
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica I think that the value of my advice is in the eyes of the beholder, or, here, the OP. Depends on how beneficial one considers the habit of throwing things. My answer should not be taken as anything against future great hunters for example! Nov 6, 2021 at 13:17

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