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Timeouts won't cure 2-year-old's penchant for throwing

| Monday, Aug. 2, 2010

Question: Our son is a month from being 2. We're concerned about his throwing. During a recent dinner out, he threw a fork that whizzed by a woman's head, just missing her eye. I took a building block to the lip the other day, and Grandma got a metal car on the forehead. The articles I've read just say throwing is a way of exploring cause-and-effect relationships. We've tried consistent timeouts, redirecting, ignoring and getting down to his level and telling him "No!" His throwing just keeps getting worse. He starts school in August, and I'm anticipating a lot of incident reports. Any suggestions?

Answer: I first have to ask why otherwise intelligent people would go into a restaurant with a not-quite 2-year-old who has a habit of throwing things at people• Would you take a dog that bites people to a park and let it off the leash• Can you say "common sense?"

I should not need to tell you that until the aerial assaults stop, you need, for the public good, to keep your son out of places where he can pick up solid objects and wing them at unsuspecting strangers. In that event, the cause-and-effect just might be the following: injury and lawyers. (To be perfectly clear, I don't think toddlers should be allowed in restaurants that have waitstaffs (meaning all but the fast-food sort) even if they don't throw things.)

Yes, 2-year-olds are known for throwing things. And, yes, throwing is a way of exploring cause and effect, but the most immediate and fascinating effect in this case is that everyone gets upset. That's the payoff.

You tell me you've tried "consistent timeouts," but then you tell me you've also tried several other consequences, including ignoring. What, pray tell, is consistent about that• And even if you did use timeout consistently, it probably wouldn't stop the throwing. Time out (a few minutes in a chair) is the weakest disciplinary consequence ever invented. It works with kids who already are well-behaved. Furthermore, timeout does not work when the misbehavior in question is above 2 on a scale of 1 to 10, and throwing things at people is at least an 8, regardless of the thrower's age.

When he throws something, or even acts like he's thinking about throwing something, you need to put him in his room and gate him in there for at least 15 minutes -- 30 minutes is not too long for a child this age. If he's too strong for a gate, then cut the door in half, re-hang it, and turn the knob around so it can be locked from the outside. If neither of you is skilled enough with tools to do that, then contribute to some handyman's standard of living.

When you put him in his room, you must do so without the slightest show of emotion, as if you're just following a formula. You needn't even say "No!"

He's a smart kid, I'll wager. He'll get the message. If he screams for the entire 15 minutes, so be it. The experience will not scar him, I assure you. It will, however, make an impression, however slowly.

When his time is up, just let him out. Don't lecture him or try to make him confess and/or apologize. Just let him out and go your merry way, prepared to do the same thing the next time an incident occurs. Consistently done, I predict this will cure his throwing in no more than six weeks. Even then, no restaurants for another two years. Okay?

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