Toddler Testing Toy Story

Hi Janet,

We got a very un-RIE gift — Penguin Race — and here’s what happened. Mia really loved it, and then she tried to break it. These mechanical penguins climb stairs and then slide/luge down a big slide, then climb the stairs again. It’s cute, noisy, fun to watch, but that is all there is to do… watch. She kept asking to “play” with it, and then every time the play would end with her throwing it on the ground, against the wall and saying “I’m breaking it.” Then we’d reprimand her for treating her things poorly. When I realized, it was happening over and over, I started to feel bad that we were reprimanding her so sternly. I don’t want her throwing things, but maybe it was stimulating her without giving her a release of doing anything… I’m not really sure… except for one thing, it’s put it away for good. 

I’m curious what you think… I found it on Amazon here.

Thanks,                                                                                                                                                                                                        Nicole


Hi Nicole,

I’m not sure why Mia would be so intent on destroying that toy either, but it sounds like it might have quickly developed into a source of negative attention, since you reacted so sternly. Her behavior got a rise out of you and became a test she was compelled to repeat. Aren’t the toddler years fascinating!

Mia (2 ¾) is old enough to know that some toys have rules attached to them, but when you enforce those rules, don’t forget to stay calm, kind, matter-of-fact and unemotional. Project confidence when you say, “Hmm… You’re being too rough with that toy. I can’t let you throw the penguin game (or rip up a book, throw a toy truck, etc.). If you can’t use it gently, I’m going to put it away”. If she continues to behave inappropriately with the toy say, “You are having a hard time playing with this gently and safely. I’m putting it away”.

Then she’s allowed to disagree with your decision, which might mean she’ll cry, scream, or have the tantrum that may have been brewing for a while anyway. Remain calm. She needs the release.

These kinds of situations are not something you need to get mad or stern about…you are in charge. She probably took you by surprise the first time, so you overreacted. When we “react” or respond too sternly, it gives our insightful toddlers the message that we aren’t in control. And although our toddlers won’t admit it, they want and need us to be. They are growing and changing rapidly and depend on us to be stabilizers.

When we respond like confident leaders, our children breathe a sigh of relief. They need to test us repeatedly to be assured of our boundaries for them and know that they are given consistently, effortlessly, patiently and out of love.  Then, safe and secure, toddlers are free to carry on doing their job — playing, exploring, learning (and most likely testing some more) with insatiable curiosity and exuberance.

Please give me any updates, penguin or otherwise!

Warmly,                                                                                                                                                                                              Janet

Do you have any toy successes or failures to share? Please do!


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. very interesting. it’s not the toy… it’s the parents. Yes, we need to learn to remain calmer in lots of situation. I’ve found when I really get loud because I want her to listen and I’m at wits end…. she laughs at me. So that really doesn’t work.

    they are trying… those toddlers… and amazing, but sometimes trying.

    i still think the penguin toy is a thing of the past.

    thanks as always

    1. The point is that you have to take this stuff in stride. And, certainly the toy might have annoyed her on some level. (I watched it in action on You Tube and was totally hypnotized.) She may have acted out hoping you’d remove it. Our children often signal us that way…by misbehaving.

      Just remember, don’t sweat the small stuff! And take care of yourself way before you get to your wits end. You deserve that. And it will keep resentments out of your relationship with your girl. I’m just working on another post about discipline in response to a parent. It’ll be up by Sunday night.

      Hugs to you!

  2. Some toddlers go through a stage of throwing all toys- just as an experiment.They’re interested in seeing what will happen, both in terms of how the object will respond, and how the people around them will respond! Gotta love those budding little scientific minds!

    Besides staying calm, and being kind, matter of fact, and brief when stating the “house rules”, I have two other tips I’d like to share that have proven helpful in my work with toddlers.

    1) Try telling your toddler what she CAN do. “I can’t let you throw the blocks.If you want to throw something, you may throw these balls, or soft toys, or scarves, or whatever.”

    Or you can phrase it as a question- “I won’t let you throw your penguin game, because it might break. If you want to throw something, Can you find some soft toys to throw, instead?”

    Your toddler may or may not take you up on your suggestion, but it can be empowering for toddlers to be reminded of what they can do, as opposed to just hearing about what you don’t want them to do.

    2)If you’ve stated your case, and the toy is thrown again, and you have to put it up, besides being willing to listen to your toddler”s feelings about the loss of the toy, it can also be helpful to affirm that you have confidence in her ability to learn to be gentle with her toys, by saying something like “I’m putting the toy away now, but you will be able to play with it again another time. I know you are learning how to take good care of your toys.”

    I’m not promising that your toddler will be any less upset, but toddlers so often have ideas and plans that adults have to squelch for one reason or another. I really feel it’s worth it to make the effort to let our toddlers know that we understand, we are on their side, and we believe in their ability to make good choices- if not today, then soon!

    The little guy I am taking care of, who will be two in less than two weeks, is going through a stage where he is throwing all toys, not just balls and soft toys, so this post is coming at exactly the right time!I am having the opportunity to practice these ways of supporting him on an hourly basis! Which is probably why I’m ready for bed at 9:00 pm!

    1. Awesome advice, Lisa! I totally agree. Sweet dreams…

  3. Thanks for these tips. I’m usually pretty good at staying calm with my 2 3/4 year old daughter, but I’ve had trouble keeping my cool when she grabs toys from her 8 month old sister or treats her roughly. It’s helpful to remember the importance of staying unemotional and using a kind voice.

  4. My son has been chucking his toys around the room for days now, ever since he did it once and I responded to it by taking away the toy. Now he tests me to see if I will take the toys away every time, which I do. I try to remain calm but it really hurts my feelings, which I know is rediculous. I have had to take away almost all of his toys and books which is really hard, when I was watching him learning so much by playing with his cars, before he threw them all.
    I give it all back the next day and then he just repeats it all over again all day long. I have offered him pillows to throw and stuffed animals and some different softer balls.

    He’s not experimenting with the toys, he’s experimenting with me. The second I need to walk into the kitchen to do anything (which I always explaint o him first AND try to fill him up with love and cuddles FIRST ) then he runs into the kitchen and throws toys because he knows I will give him attention by taking the toy away and getting on his level. By doing that, am I just reinforcing that to get my attention he has to come throw toys? I have told him “It looks like you want mama’s attention, next time you want attention say Mama! ” but sometimes he tries to get a ttention when I really cant give it to him, like cooking dinner on the hot stove. I try to include him as much as possible, try to make sure he’s had LOTS of attention before I start cooking, have a stool in the kitchen, etc etc. But he still is acting out like crazy. I try to remember that he’s 21 months old but it still has me nearly in tears . Thanks

  5. Also – that penguin toy isn’t necessarily a piece of junk with no purpose, it’s really good for eye-tracking which is necessary for reading skills. There are more hands on eye-tracking toys, like ball drops or car tracks, though.

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