When a young child throws an object, it’s a parent’s reactive response to scold the child and take that object away from him. He may then pick up another object and throw that one, pushing the adult to anger and frustration. And if he doesn’t do it again right away, his fear of the parent may stop his actions for the moment, only to have him do it at some point later on.
A parent asked me for help with her child throwing a toy at the ceiling light in his room. Another one asked me how to stop her son from trying to get his sox and underwear hooked on the fins of the ceiling fan in his room. In each of these situations, the parent’s first response was to punish the child by making him pay for damage to the ceiling light fan or even emptying his room of all objects.
I’m certainly not going to advise you to allow children to continue this destructive behavior, nor am I going to suggest punishing the child. We’ve been trained by our own parents to use force or control to stop a behavior we don’t like. That was the solution back when autocratic parenting was the norm; the all-powerful parent used punishment and fear to control a child’s behavior.
Instead of the authoritarian style of parenting that our parents used with us as children (expecting children to follow very strict rules unconditionally), today’s parents are encouraged to use an authoritative approach to parenting (a more child-centric view that includes more listening and less lecturing, the use of consequences instead of punishment, and encouraging independence and risk taking).
Let’s examine the problem of throwing objects. Why do we want to stop it; because it’s a potentially destructive action that could result in damage or injury. But the act of throwing an object at a target is a normal desire for fun, especially for boys. Using punishment to control this is counterproductive to raising children with unconditional love.
I say we should take a different approach in managing some behaviors, such as jumping, climbing, shouting, drawing, and throwing. I say we should create the conditions for a child to jump, climb, shout, draw or throw something in a fun, safe, and appropriate manner. In other words, set up a way for the child to throw something safe as a replacement for throwing the objects at the ceiling light fan. Forget about punishment or getting angry. Instead, get creative!
Let’s say that you set up a safe way for your child to throw, such as with a bean bag toy and target set (see image of boys with bean bag toss game). If your child should suddenly one day throw something in an unsafe way, such as at his ceiling fan, react quickly and without words. Guide your child to the bean bag toss toy without yelling, reprimanding or getting angry, and say to him, “This is where you can throw things.” And if necessary, have someone help you remove the ceiling fan from his room until he gets much older.
I urge you to take a closer look at a challenging behavior you’d like to change and then ask yourself these questions:
1.) what is my child’s goal in this behaviour
2.) how can I help him/her get his/her needs met in a more appropriate way. This novel approach can easily eliminate or quell a challenging behavior and also eliminate the need for punishment and other fear-based parenting tactics.