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Understanding Toddler Behaviour

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

Why is my child throwing things down the toilet!? A guide to toddler


I am a mother to a wonderfully feisty 2 year old; a 2 year old who engages in behaviour that, at times, I am amazed and in awe at, but, at times, leaves me frustrated and exasperated.

If you are a parent to young children I am sure you have experienced

these same feelings and you know exactly what behaviour I am talking

about… the throwing of hard toys at your head, mashing and smearing

banana everywhere, climbing on all the furniture and emptying packets of /flour/whatever they find in the kitchen all over the floor! Let’s also not forget dropping things in the toilet and hanging upside down.

If you are anything like I am, I am constantly asking Why!? Of my

toddler, and the answer, is that actually there is a very good reason

for these behaviours.

Children have an intrinsic need for play, to explore their environment and help them to make sense of the world

around them. These repeated patterns of behaviours are known as Schemas

and are an incredibly important part of your childs development.

Schemas lay the foundations for later learning and the development of

abstract thought (Being able to think about putting a ball in a cup when

it is not physically right in front of you)

They can also vary from child to child; some schemas may show up quite obviously or they can develop in clusters where a combination of schemas become apparent.

Sometimes they come and go quite quickly and other times it can feel

like your child is exploring one type of schema for a while.

Interestingly studies have shown that children exploring similar schemas

are often drawn to play together.

So why do these behaviours need to be repeated so often? When we learn

something, a neural pathway is created in the brain, the more often we

enact that same behaviour this neural pathway becomes strengthened and

eventually permanent. It is also highly likely that they may not enact

them in what most adults would consider an appropriate manner!

What are these schemas and how can we help aid our toddlers to explore


There are actually an endless amount of schemas, involving literally

everything we as adults have learnt how to do, but we will just focus on

the most prominent ones in toddlers. In Children under the age of three

the schemas they are most focused upon are those that develop through

“sensorimotor” events. This means absorbing information through their

senses (sight, smell, taste, touch) and their own movements.


This involves carrying things from one place to another, either by hand

or in bags/other items.

Does your child like to put toys in a basket or

bag and move them from one side of the room to the other and unload

them? Or take everything out of the kitchen cupboards and move them

somewhere you can’t find them!?

To aid the transportation urge you can ensure you have plenty of

transporting toys around such as bags, baskets or pushchairs and smaller

items that they can contain in them. Perhaps you can encourage them to

help with unpacking the shopping, or perhaps help in the garden,

carrying water and moving buckets/wheelbarrows (child size!) Watch

people being transported on trains or buses, or play travelling games by

lining up chairs or boxes for a bus/train and sing “wheels on the bus”.


This involves wrapping/ covering items or themselves. Does you child

love to be under the table? In a box or wrapping dolls in blankets? Are

they always opening and closing the bin? Or exploring whether they can

hide an object under things or opening and closing cupboards.

To aid this schema shape sorters are helpful, play doctors or vets and

use plenty of bandages. Have plenty of dressing up clothes/scarves and

hats available. Russian nesting toys and posting toys like a money box,

or wrap up parcels - an enveloper loves presents! Games like “pass the

parcel” and “peek a boo” are helpful.


Does your child enjoy putting things in cups? Climbing into boxes?

Putting things down the toilet…!? Perhaps they like to draw or paint

pictures then draw a border or circle around them. Maybe they like to

create enclosures around their toys.

To help support this schema provides pots with things they can fill them

with such as dry play with pasta/rice. Set up boxes or tents to

“contain” themselves. This is also a good one to enact in the bath

filling up bottles or cups. Provide opportunities for burying or digging

objects out, maybe hiding some toys in sand/mud/flour.


Does your child love to view the world from a different perspective?

Perhaps they sit on the sofa upside down, maybe they ask to be help

upside down or sideways. Do they walk backwards or lie on top of the


This is an important schema for building confidence in many physical

games and activities and is useful to anticipate how another person may


To satisfy this urge try walking along walls, rolling down hills, soft

play… (if you can cope!)  hanging upside down from monkey bars at the

park or climbing trees.


Do they love to throw food? Do they like to watch it fall from their

highchair and watch it hit the floor? Are they aiming blocks at your

head or kicking anything on the floor? Are the fascinated watching birds

fly through the air or trains passing?

This schema helps to develop throwing, catching, kicking and eventually activities such as driving, it is all about studying the movement of an

object or their own body through the air

For this one you can encourage throwing balls at a target, maybe soft

toys onto the bed inside, or kicking a ball into a goal outside, chasing

games like “touch” or pushing toys off a table and seeing where it


My little one particularly enjoys taking a tennis ball to a park

and rolling it down the slide. Water play, tunnels, climbing frames or

even just providing leaves or feathers to watch them falling down are

helpful for this schema.


Does your child spin around a lot? Are they fascinated by the washing

machine or spinning the wheels on toy cars? Then they are likely

exploring the rotation schema.

Things to support rotation can be connecting toy nuts and bolts or using

spanners and screwdrivers, using keys in locks and padlocks. Drawing

spirals in sand or finger paints and also mixing/whisking cake

ingredients. Spinning tops, clocks, water wheels and songs like “round

and round the garden” with finger actions and “wind the bobbin up”


Do they love to mix things together? Are they constantly pouring water

into their dinner and playing with their food? Perhaps they like to

smash banana and explore how various things change consistency when wet

or dry?

This Schema reminds me of little scientists or chefs, this helps to aid

Support this one with messy play, in the house, give them wet and dry

ingredients, water, corn flour, pasta, rice, let them explore what

happens when they mix it all together. Outside mud, leaves, water etc…

Perhaps get them to help with cooking or mixing cake ingredients


I am sure that you likely recognise a fair few of these schemas, perhaps

there are one or two that are sticking out for you that your child

enacts fairly regularly.

I think it’s important to note that these are all urges that you child experiences, quite often we can assume that they are doing these things to annoy us or are being “naughty” but it’s important to remember that children this young are not able to manipulate us and discipline for these types of behaviour is unlikely to be helpful.

Of course sometimes there are other reasons behind some behaviours,

tiredness, illness, frustration, a need for connection. When it is these

schemas at play however, and your child is acting in a way which you

deem inappropriate (maybe throwing wooden toys at your head!) we can

instead redirect to something that is more appropriate.

Encouraging and supporting these Schemas in your children can help them to develop confidence in themselves and their abilities. It helps themto feel in control and if we provide tools in order to act on these

urges they are also likely to spend longer enacting these activities.

Although it is still important to remember that under the age of 3 most children only spend between 2-5 minutes absorbed in an activity at any

one time!

So, over to you, What Schemas have you identified in your toddlers play?

And how did you help to support them?

This post was written by  Hannah Harding, founder of Growing Oaks,

Mum to one feisty toddler, a yoga teacher, with a BSc (hons) in

Psychology and an interest in child development.

Have you got a great blog post you would love to share on Outdoor Mum's website. Please get in touch.

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