After the adorable infant period of dropping objects from the high chair to see you scoop them up, most children devolve into a throwing stage. Commonly seen at the 11-16 month developmental level, this is different behavior but it can be just as maddening. Maybe more. Today, I am going to give you both an explanation and a possible solution.
Instead of learning about physics (gee, things always go straight down to the floor!) or social communication (I can get Mommy to do what I want!), this phase isn’t experimental or interactive. Your baby is releasing something they don’t want any longer and probably reaching for something else that they see. So they throw the object in their hand off to the side. They don’t watch it roll and they don’t expect you to go get it. They look like a crazed shopper, searching through a bin to find the correct size and color before someone else gets it! Telling them to place it nicely on the floor in front of them doesn’t usually work, and telling them that they are making a mess doesn’t either.
My solution? Give them a container.
Container play is a developmental milestone, and they are likely approaching or fully in that stage of cognitive and motor learning. Younger kids need bigger containers, older ones will like smaller containers. Novelty could work for you, as could sound. I had a family empty their Tinkertoy container because it was a tall cylinder with a metal base. When a plastic object fell in, it made a satisfying noise. Their baby was entranced. She couldn’t wait to put things inside to hear the sound! Show your child how to place things inside, and cheer even the sloppiest attempts.
If your child is clearly throwing things to get your attention, or throwing in anger, this isn’t the solution to those behaviors. You might want to read Address A Child’s Defiance Without Crushing Their Spirit or Discipline and Toddlers: What Do You Say if You Don’t Want to Constantly Say “No”?.
In my work as a pediatric OT and doing consultations with families of young children, I know that much of the puzzling and frustrating behavior at this age is simply a disconnect between exploration and expectations. When you can see life through a child’s eyes, often a solution becomes evident. Good luck turning tossing toys into container play!