Frequent Destructive Behavior In Toddlers

by Eliza Martinez, Demand Media Google
    A curious toddler may be breaking your things, one at a time.

    A curious toddler may be breaking your things, one at a time.

    Most toddlers break things at some time or another. For many, it's an isolated incident or two, but for other toddlers, destroying things is an everyday occurrence. If your toddler falls into the latter category, it is frustrating and upsetting to keep finding him engaging in destructive behavior. Understanding the reasons behind his destruction helps you prevent and eliminate the behaviors, while also saving your most prized possessions.


    For some toddlers, breaking things just means they have more items in the end, or they might like the sound that destroying makes. For other toddlers, destruction is a way to express and ease frustration or to pay you back for telling him it's time to turn off the television and get ready for bed. If your toddler had a bad day, he might want some company, so he breaks your favorite lamp so he has someone to be miserable with. Some toddlers break your favorite heirlooms as an attempt to get you to give in to what they want. If things don't go his way, your toddler might tear the buttons off your sweater, hoping you'll change your mind.

    Effective Discipline

    Yes, you want your toddler to quit being destructive, but the right form of discipline is vital for helping him learn desired behaviors. First, set clear expectations of what your child is not allowed to do. For example, he is never allowed to throw his plate just because you served him something he didn't want to eat. If your child breaks his favorite toy, don't buy him another one. Having to do without his preferred play things may be enough to keep him from doing it again next time. Cleaning up his mess is also an effective way to keep him from destroying things in the future. Your toddler broke all his crayons because his artwork didn't go as planned. Give him a broom and trash bag and have him clean up the pieces and throw them away.

    Stopping It

    Stopping destructive behavior is your ultimate goal, hopefully before your house is empty of furniture and decor. Help your toddler find alternative behaviors when he is upset. Instead of breaking the remote control, he could say loudly, "I am angry," or jump up and down five times. Remove items that are very important to you to ensure that your great-grandmother's wedding china remains intact. Model good behavior. Do you throw the spoon when your batch of soup burns? You can't expect your toddler to refrain from destructive behaviors if you don't do the same.

    When to Seek Help

    In some cases, destructive toddler behavior might indicate a larger problem. If your attempts to stop and prevent destructive behavior aren't successful, contact your toddler's pediatrician for evaluation. Sometimes, destruction is a sign or symptom of oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder or bipolar disorder. The conditions are treatable with intervention, and prognosis is better with an early diagnosis.

    About the Author

    Eliza Martinez has written for print and online publications. She covers a variety of topics, including parenting, nutrition, mental health, gardening, food and crafts. Martinez holds a master's degree in psychology.

    Photo Credits

    • Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images