Why Do They Throw Themselves on the Floor?


I think every parent of a child between the ages of 1 and 2.5 years old has wondered why their children throw themselves (sometimes violently) on the floor when they get angry or upset. Such an extreme reaction! And often over almost nothing! Some of them do this with so much energy that they hurt themselves! What’s the explanation?

I got an insight into this issue when I was watching a toddler teacher try to coach a child through expressing his anger about not getting a toy he wanted right away. She got right down close to him, made good eye contact and said “Eric (a fictional name), you don’t need to throw yourself down. You can . . . and here she illustrated with her body by clenching her fists pumping her arms up and down and stamping her foot on the floor very hard and said “Oh!! I’m so angry!!!” in a loud voice. She knew Eric couldn’t say the words, but she hoped he could substitute some really angry body language for the violent and sudden contact between his body and the floor.

After watching the teacher’s demonstration, Eric’s eyes got very thoughtful. He watched intently as the teacher demonstrated a few more times. And then with great concentration on his face, he carefully and tentatively lifted one leg off the floor. It was a challenge. And he couldn’t lift one foot easily without moving forward. It took lots of concentration and effort.

For years I have been helping teachers learn to coach children to use language, both verbal and gestures to express their emotions. I don’t know how many times I have demonstrated just what the teacher was doing, clenching hands and stamping my feet energetically to express anger. It never occurred to me that very young children have to really work at stamping their feet! And when you are very angry, you can’t think very well. So foot stamping is not yet in a young toddler’s physical vocabulary and it is not within their reach to use it to express anger.

I must say, watching this really cracked me up. How wrong I was about how to help a young toddler manage anger! The look of concentration and fascination on that child’s face was priceless. It looked like he was saying “How does she do that?” as he worked hard to lift one foot off the ground.

I often talk about developmentally appropriate activities being very important. Well here I was suggesting over several years an activity to help children express themselves and regulate their strong emotions that was completely developmentally inappropriate!!

And there you have the answer to why young children throw themselves on the floor! Children under about 2.5 years don’t have the physical skill to use their distinct body parts to express their feelings. They have to use their whole body!