Montessori Children Don’t Throw

When my son was around 14 months old, he started throwing things: toys, silverware, food, you name it (although he wisely never threw a glass!).  My first instinct should’ve been to stop and observe him to find out why he was throwing.  But instead, my ego got the best of me and I began thinking: “You shouldn’t be throwing; you’re a Montessori child!”  As if a floor bed, cloth diapers, and a weaning table were a vaccine against normal infant developmental phases.

It took many throws before I stopped wallowing in the disappointment of having raised an imperfect child despite all my education, and then I finally started to pay attention – because of my education (ah, the irony).  I discovered that Zachary would throw when he was frustrated with a challenge but didn’t know how to ask for help; when he was tired but didn’t know how to tell me; and when he was done but didn’t know what to do about it.  After much observation, it became clear that throwing was a way of communicating.

With this newfound awareness, I got to work.  If he threw something, I immediately pointed out the reason I perceived was behind his action.  “You don’t want any more food, you’re all done.  You can say ‘all done‘.”  Or, “That train isn’t staying on the track!  You seem frustrated.  You can say ‘help‘.”  Or, “You seem to be feeling tired.  You can come sit on my lap for a bit.”  And always, I would add, “Let’s not throw the train/fork/grape.  I’m going to put it away now.”

Later, as I got better at predicting when he’d throw, I’d sometimes be able to catch him before he pitched an object across the room.  In these cases, I would hold his hand and start with, “I’m not going to let you throw the grape/train/fork.  You seem to be full/frustrated/tired… You can say ‘all done’/ask for help/sit on my lap.”

It sounds so straightforward and easy.  It was anything but.  His behavior tested my ego (because he was throwing at school, too!!!); it tested my patience; it tested my reflexes; but mostly it tested my ability to respond consistently and without negativity, no matter what.  Yelling or punishing him would have been so easy, such a cathartic and instinctual way to react.  It was a lot harder to stay cool and stop what I was doing to help him develop a new skill.

It took more than a year for Zachary to stop constantly throwing things.  When did he stop?  When his language flourished, right around 2 1/2.  He still throws occasionally, when he’s very tired.  But then he looks up as if to say, “Oh crap.  I shouldn’t have done that.  But I really need help and don’t know how to deal with this feeling.”

About a year into our throwing experience, I overheard someone telling another parent, “You know, a lot of children throw.”  At that moment, a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.  It wasn’t anything I had done or had failed to do.  Children throw.  Following a Montessori parenting approach isn’t an insurance policy against “negative” childhood behaviors; it is a window into the child’s psyche that allows us to better understand and respond to these behaviors as part of normal human development.

13 thoughts on “Montessori Children Don’t Throw”

  1. Throwing is innate and wonderful! Except when it breaks a vase or makes a little sister bleed. 😦 I feel it is about teaching our children when it is OK to throw and when it is not. I am bringing my 4 year old to feed the ducks later today. He (and I) will be throwing that bread as best we can! But not at the ducks …but for the ducks. 🙂

  2. Thanks for this! My daughter was in montessori from 3mo-1 year and then we moved to a much smaller town where there wasn’t an infant or toddler community. We’ve done our best to maintain a montessori house but her school is not and I often find myself cursing her daycare when she behaves “un-montessori-like”. 🙂 It is good to have that burden lifted…

  3. Thank you so much for this Pilar! You know I needed to read this. That’s exactly what my husband said when my son started throwing recently. “You are a montessori child, don’t embarrass your mother!”
    I have observed the same things you did. For him, it is a way to communicate… most times frustration. I also anticipate it now and have taken your advice to name what I think he may be feeling. Now I will just work on bracing myself for the fact/possibility that it may last over a year! Eek.

    P.s. Isn’t it interesting how they never throw glass? Also, please tell me Montessori children hit too.

  4. Pilar, I so wish my son and I were ten years younger, so that I could use your words of wisdom in raising him.

  5. This same concept should work with hair pulling right? My 16m is a real terror sometimes when it comes to pulling his 4 year old sister’s hair. I try to explain to him that it hurts and that he needs to ask for her attention in a different way but it’s so hard not to get upset when your first baby is in pain. Part of the problem is convincing the 4 year old to pay attention to him before he pulls…..

    1. Yes, totally the same concept. And it’s more of working with your 4-yr old to understand the toddler’s mentality, than the other way around because at 16 months all you can do is give language, try to redirect, and wait. 🙂

  6. Maybe he just wanted to learn to throw as a motor skill. Soft stuffed animals followed by soft balls and some practice may be just the ticket. He was at the age for developing large motor, after all.

  7. I am now having this same problem. We had it before, it got passed away, but now it came back. I think it is a mix of difficulty with communication (I noticed the same you did, hunger, sleep, frustration) and boredom. If he finds himself with nothing to do he trows everything, or drops sheets and books (!!!). I am trying, but it’s hard, ’cause he gets bored after 5 or 10 minutes of anything.
    This mourning, just as he came out of the bed he trow a magic board and a piano (!!!). I got so sad I cried and asked my husband to stay with him for a while. I needed to be alone. I realized we need a lot of changes. New toys, a lot more activities (I’m organizing them by theme and available material), a new bedroom set up and more spaces for him around the house so he does not get bored either in his bedroom, in the living room, in the kitchen, etc.
    It’s really a matter of observation, if we step back and watch them we understand them much better.
    It is nice to know I’m not the only one and that it is not something that cannot be worked out. Thank you for your share! ❤

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