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April 14, 2001

Redirecting a Child Who Throws Things When Angry

by Shari Steelsmith

Tip—Teach anger management skills and use a consequence when a child throws things.

Angry child

Young children usually come with very little inner restraint. When their emotions are strong, aggressive behaviors like hitting, biting, and throwing things can follow. The good news is that all of us usually do learn to restrain our impulse to hurl a frustrating object or task out the window and scream. Your task as a parent of a child naturally-inclined to throw things is to teach him to control himself and express his emotions more constructively. One way to do this is to train young children to use words to express the anger instead of actions (throwing). A child who stops long enough to yell, "I'm mad!" or "I'm frustrated!" has usually already bypassed the impulse to throw and redirected that energy into words. Personally, I would much rather hear my children verbally "vent" than have them throw pencils, blocks, or toys. My son, who is seven, often feels hugely burdened by having to do homework—so his tolerance for frustration is very low. I've taught him to talk about how he feels. I get an earful, then, if he's calm enough, I'll guide him through solving his problem. If he throws the pencil or tears his paper, he forfeits my help.

Tools—The following anger management techniques and consequence ideas are drawn from I’m Mad and I’m Furious by Elizabeth Crary and Go to Your Room!: Consequences That Teach by Shari Steelsmith.

To help children redirect angry energy or the impulse to throw:

  • Breathe. Teach your child to take five to ten deep breaths before doing anything else. Many people, when angry, unconsciously hold their breath; no one thinks well without oxygen. One parent I know gets her angry child face to face and breathes with him. She says her kids generally are calmer and more ready to solve the problem after taking several deep breaths.

  • Do something physical. Leave the frustrating task or situation and go for a walk, a run, or do a silly dance. Squish playdough. Kick a soccer ball around. Or, if you're my daughter, run several laps through the house.

  • Talk to someone. If the child is having sibling conflicts, tell him to ask for grownup help. If it's a homework problem that's causing difficulties, he can ask for assistance.

If your child loses it and throws something, you may want to use one of the following consequences:

  • Take away the object thrown for the day. (This works well if it is a toy or something the child wants or needs.)

  • Child must pick up the item thrown, put it away, and then go to his or her room.

  • If the child breaks something, then he or she must fix it or pay to have it repaired. If this is a recurring problem, then consider selling a toy that belongs to the child to pay for the broken item.

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You’ll find more practical tips you can use right now in I’m Mad and I’m Furious by Elizabeth Crary, M.S. and Go to Your Room!: Consequences That Teach by Shari Steelsmith.

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