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.