Postive Parenting: Throwing Rocks

I want to start a new series of small posts here on Sugar, Spice and Glitter offering postive parenting scripts for common behaviour issues in children. I really try to phrase myself positively for the children, but it can be hard in the moment to figure out what to say.

I don’t want my suggestions to be the only ones on offer — if you have alternative suggestions for ways to positively support children, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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Throwing rocks has a universal and old-as-time appeal. It’s easy to want to say “don’t throw rocks,” but that isn’t always very effective because it doesn’t provide an alternative for the very satisfying action of throwing rocks.

The point in this list of positive alternatives is not to avoid being direct or firm. Misbehaviour that is serious needs to be directly addressed and children need to know what rules and structure exists, which is important for them to feel secure in the expectations that we have for them.But sometimes using negative scripts is ineffective, and though children are aware of the rule they need an opportunity to channel their impulses and satisfy sensory needs elsewhere. By changing the focus from what we don’t do, to what we can do, children are more likely to be receptive to changing course and accepting the new information.

What to Say Instead of “Don’t Throw Rocks”

  • “Wow! You have a super throw! Can you show me your super throw with this ball?”
  • “Throwing rocks can hurt our friends. Can we throw a ball with our friends instead?”
  • “Rocks stay on the ground. Can I help you put the rocks back gently, or would you like to do it yourself?”
  • “What are you trying to do with throwing rocks?” (Use this alternative as a prompt for conversation, where you can discuss alternatives.)
  • “Please put the rocks down.”
  • “Hm, what might be a better choice to throw?”
  • “Only balls get thrown.” (Great for kids who make strong associations quickly, or for younger children — Ella had this said to her since 5 months old!)
  • “Do you want to come look at this beautiful garden with me?” (Appropriate for using after an initial reminder with a younger child who is struggling with impulse control, not necessarily for an older child who is aware of the rule.)
  • “What are rocks for?” (Have a conversation about their real purposes, highlight that throwing isn’t one of them.)
  • “Would you like me to show you a game where you can throw a rock?” (Teach hopscotch and controlled throwing of the rock. If near a lake, that’s always an opportunity to teach rock skipping.)

What alternatives to “don’t throw rocks” would you add to this list?

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  1. Great post! I like the suggestions you’ve made for alternative language. We used to tell our little guy that we can drop rocks, or toss rocks (as in hopscotch!) but we do not throw rocks. Teaching them the difference between those words, even with rocks as the object being used is a great vocabulary lesson in addition to behavior modification.

  2. I love the positive spin on it! For me, at least, a lot of times I don’t even realize I’m using a negative until I stop and think about it (not something I usually do in the moment!) I look forward to more like this script!

  3. I love your forum and your suggestion to “Tell a child what TO DO, vs what NOT TO DO”.
    I learned this concept when my kids would run on the concrete around the pool in my parents back yard:
    I would yell “QUIT RUNNING! Stop! Stop running!” all day long, and they would not stop! It was as if I wasn’t even talking, until …
    … I FINALLY, said “WALK!!!!”
    It worked like a charm! They immediately stoped running, and started walking.
    From then on I used this strategy in every direction. Instead of yelling and barking orders all day, I learned to give them direction, or point them in another direction. Even as they got older, instead of telling my kids “perhaps you don’t want to hang out with those kids” (kids who are always getting in trouble,) and leave them feeling lost and lonely, I’d sign them up for a sport, or haul them off to Vacation Bible School. (Keep ‘I’m busy!!!!)
    Anyway, I had been frustrated that my 3 year old, autistic, grandson was out of control with his rock throwing. One time he had a huge rock in his hand and I knew I wouldn’t have time to get to him, stop him, and I just knew it was going to come down on his head, or his twin brothers, or my head. Before I knew it the rock was flying! Thank God it missed everyone, and it ended up that it was just a big clump of mud, and crumbled when it hit the concrete, (funny God, can you restart my heart now?).
    Nevertheless, It was going to take an hour or two for his parents to remove all of the rocks from the back yard, and it could take weeks before they found the time to do it. I was getting worried, thinking, if they don’t get those rocks out of here, fast, someone is going to get hurt, really bad. The rocks were mainly around the hose area and the water spouts.
    However, (divine intervention maybe?) one day Milo accidentally solved the problem on his own. We were in the back yard and I saw that he was about to toss another rock in the air. I sternly yelled at him “STOP!”, (he knows what “stop” is because he often uses the word himself) so he began to search around for an alternative place to dispose the rock. He spotted a bucket of rainwater on the rock side of the (unaffective) “baby gate” that acted as a petition, and he tossed the rock into the bucket. It splashed and he started laughing hysterically. Immediately he was off to collect another rock to drop into the bucket. He spent 20 minutes running around the gate to fetch more rocks, and then he would run back to drop them in the bucket. Cool! I could relax a little.
    So now, I’ve decided that I’m gong to get creative and make him a rock wall area with some targets and get some different containers (buckets made of metal, plastic etc., pans, a box, a bag maybe …) and make a “backdrop” (maybe use an old cookie sheet, a hanging bucket, maybe a bell …) and help him improve his aim.

  4. Hi,

    Im currently finishing my degree to be an early childhood teacher. This is common with the children and I have a plan for them which is rock painting 🙂 as part of your redirecting, we can teach them it can used for art too to make them beautiful. Or maybe ask them if we can put a smiley face on them or some clothes on. HAHA, Hopefully this can be useful 🙂

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