Rob had an obsession with throwing things that lasted from the time he was about 2 until he was eight, when it was replaced by an obsession with kicking a soccer ball repeatedly against the backyard wall.
Rob would throw anything he could get a hold of. He threw, not only his toys, but books, food, sand, rocks, liquids, other people’s possessions….he discovered he liked the sound of breaking glass so would throw things through windows….of course this was a huge discipline problem, for safety reasons, as well as social ones. The most annoying throwing behavior was his habit of dumping the liquid out of any uncovered cup, and throwing it on me if I was nearby. But he also liked annoying his sister or her friends by grabbing something that belonged to them and throwing it out the back door or over the back fence.
Spanking, timeouts, redirection—none of that helped us, because he liked to throw things, he thought it was funny if other people got angry, and he had no sense of danger.
Things that did help:
1) sensory integration therapy (see previous posts). Part of the reason he felt compelled to throw things was that his brain was desperately seeking proprioceptive input. So the therapy helped reduce his urge to throw.
2) heavy work. That is a term for giving him extra sensory input by having him dig, haul heavy objects, wear a weighted vest, etc. We moved to a house with almost an acre of land attached, so he could have lots of room to run, jump, dig, and throw things without bothering neighbors. The house had a pool, so everyday he spent time swimming – which is great proprioceptive exercise. After he learned to swim we let him throw pool toys in the pool and swim to retrieve them.
3) providing acceptable outlets for throwing/jumping behavior. We provided him with cardboard blocks to throw into a net. We set up a throwing area outside in the yard with a net. We gave him a ball with an elastic tether to throw. He had certain acceptable throwing toys/places. If he was throwing his sister’s toys, for example, we told him no and reminded him that he could choose from the throwing basket. The things we allowed him to throw were mostly soft toys. But he did need to be able to throw things of different weights, so the heavy stuff had to be outside. We made up a game where we we set the time for 30 seconds, and he could throw everything in the throwing basket as hard as he could for 30 seconds, but then he had to stop. Outside, he could throw heavy rocks into a pit.
4) Often jumping was an equally satisfying behavior, so we had an outdoor trampoline with a safety net. Indoors, he had a mini-tramp he could jump on.
5) he had a bouncing horse (a riding horse on springs) that he loved. He spent hours on that as well.
6) once he learned to play soccer he would literally spend hours at a time kicking a soccer ball against the wall of the pool. When he could catch, we gave him a ball and glove and a bounceback net, so he could throw and catch. He also liked bouncing balls against the wall.
It may seem that we were avoiding disciplining him – but his need to throw things was real and urgent; so we tried to set up his environment in ways that made it possible to meet that need in a safe and socially acceptable way. At school, in P.E., he sometimes got in trouble for grabbing others’ toys and throwing them away, or throwing a ball so hard he would hurt others. In those situations, a time-out seemed best. Since he liked throwing, putting him in a time-out place where there was nothing to throw was an effective discipline. “If you hurt others, you don’t get to throw.” We had a rule that it was not OK to throw things at other people (but then games where that was allowed puzzled him). This is where the throwback net helped. Sometimes he would throw a ball so hard that the ball would bounce back and hit him in the shins or face. We took those opportunities to remind him that it felt the same way to others when he threw things at them too hard.
His amusement at annoying others was a separate issue I will deal with in another post. He did like to make people upset because he thought it was funny to see them yell or cry or get angry. That was a much bigger and more difficult issue to deal with than just throwing things.