Toddler who destroys everything he touches: what to do

By Dr Richard C. Woolfson   — March 17, 2017
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    Why can’t your toddler be more gentle or play nicely? Within seconds, he turns a perfectly good object into a pile of rubbish, either by tearing, pulling, biting or smashing. Of course you’ll get annoyed when you see the trail of destruction that he leaves behind. But don’t confuse his natural curiosity with aggression.

    Your tot is a scientist, by nature. He likes to explore the world around him. That’s partly how he learns about himself, about others and about his surroundings. Through this driving curiosity, he builds up his knowledge of how things work. He can’t think of a better way to discover the inner secrets of toys, books and other objects than to take them apart, piece by piece.

    It’s not that he wants to break them up for the sake of it, or because he has an aggressive personality; he just wants to see inside them, to see how they are put together, to see how they work. Unfortunately, that usually means the object under scrutiny is damaged beyond repair, but your little one doesn’t think that far ahead.

    While enthusiasm and inquisitiveness underpin your tot’s learning, your challenge is to harness these positive qualities in ways that support his exploration, but at the same time don’t cause quite so much collateral damage.

    Here are some strategies you can consider:

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  • Provide toys that come apart
    2 / 6 Provide toys that come apart

    Since you know he enjoys dissembling objects, give him a toy that he can put together and take apart, again and again. For example, age- appropriate bricks, like Lego Duplo and Megablok, allow him to stick them together any way he wants and then to break up his model just as quickly.

    Encourage your tot to play with these sorts of toys so he can satisfy his curiosity without creating chaos.

    Related: Toddler loses interest in toys quickly: what to do

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  • Set clear limits
    3 / 6 Set clear limits

    The problem is that he has not yet learnt when it is appropriate to dismantle an object and when it is not. He thinks they are all the same, from that perspective.

    Explain clearly to him what he is not allowed to damage, such as the DVD player, the ornament on the table and his books. Point out that these objects can’t be put together again, so he must handle them gently.

    Related: Toddler wants to be carried everywhere: 4 steps to unspoil him

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  • Be prepared to say “no”
    4 / 6 Be prepared to say “no”

    Once you’ve explained that he is not allowed to break toys or furniture, but he still proceeds to take them apart, step in and say “no” to him. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground, even if he throws a tantrum. If you give into him, he’ll quickly learn that when you say “no”, you really mean “no, unless you have a tantrum, in which case I’ll say yes.”

    Related: 4 ways to help your toddler avoid a meltdown

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  • Distract rather than confront
    5 / 6 Distract rather than confront

    Better still, don’t wait until you have to confront your little one – prevention is always more effective. So if you see him about to tear up a book or break up a toy, distract him with another more appropriate activity.

    Offer him a different toy or game, and play along with him so he is totally engaged with it. That way, you can avert the crisis before it actually happens.

    Related: 8 easy tips to get kids to clean up

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  • Use praise effectively
    6 / 6 Use praise effectively

    When Junior does play properly with a toy and leaves it in the same condition that he found it, give him lots of praise. Tell him how pleased you are that he played so nicely with the item.

    He’ll glow with pride from your positive comments and he is less likely to be destructive with his toys in the future. Rewarding for positive behaviour is usually more effective than punishing for negative behaviour.


    Related: 9 ways to praise your kid

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