Parents everywhere are no doubt exasperated when the 15-18 month old’s fascination with dumping out containers becomes a regular activity for their children. Dumping water, food, toys, the garbage, the cat food, the everything… It gets old quickly, cleaning up all that stuff. The toddlers show little interest in the items they have dumped out, but that doesn’t keep them from dumping them out as soon as parents have cleaned up the last disaster. Why do toddlers love dumping things out and what can exhausted parents do?
The answer may not be a popular one: let them dump. Surprised? Well, toddlers are scientists, and they are learning a lot by dumping all those items on the floor. Concepts like gravity, object permanence, physics, mass and volume, measurement, and behavioral science too, are learned by dumping toys out. Simply put, it’s a natural progression in their self education process, and entirely unavoidable. They are just made for dumping things, and for observing…
Then what are parents to do about this developmental milestone? Allowing natural self education while trying not to freak out about the consequences may seem like a daunting task, but that’s what parenting is, right? However, there is a solution. Provide and allow certain items for dumping. The toy stores are full of items called fill n’ spill toys, which are what they sound like; containers with soft toys to put inside and dump out. While parents can certainly rush out to buy things like this, it’s just as simple to find household items that will serve the same purpose. Allow toddler to fill baskets with those ever perplexing lone socks, and let them dump them out. The socks won’t make a sound! In the tub, use a plastic cup or two to allow water dumping experiments that won’t flood the house. Other dumping items might be a cup with craft puff balls, or cotton balls, an old oatmeal canister full of baby spoons, etc.
Providing them items that are unbreakable and safe and OK to dump out gives children the opportunity to practice their experiments without damaging items (or parents!) That doesn’t mean they won’t still try to dump their dinner and the cat food as well. That’s where being two steps ahead of a toddler comes into play. With a toddler’s perspective in mind, search the house for those dumpable items and those places that beg to be dumped on or into like the floor below the high chair, or the toilet. Feed the cat somewhere baby can’t get to the bowl. Put a baby lock on the toilet lid, there should be one there anyway! At mealtimes, serve food right on the high chair tray to remove the temptation to throw a bowl or plate. Food may still be thrown, and that’s no fun, but no bowls will be shattered, and a fistful of food on the floor is better than a bowl full. If every bite is thrown and none are eaten, kiddo probably isn’t hungry. If parents are finding that certain toys like building blocks or books are constantly being dumped from their containers, consider putting them up for a few weeks. Dumping may also be a sign of boredom with a particular toy. Make it new again by hiding it for a few weeks and then bringing it back.
Elimination behavior, especially behavior that is developmentally appropriate, is an uphill battle. Replacing and modifying those useful but annoying toddler activities is an alternative that may just be more effective, and certainly worth a try. The good news is, toddlers will get ample opportunity to dump to their heart’s content in an excellent nursery school or preschool
Teachers at Prime Time Early Learning Centers in New York and New Jersey loves to talk with parents about their child’s developmental milestones such as the “dump it out” phase, and to share their experience learned from years of talking with other parents about the same issues. Parents looking for full day child care, part time child care, after school programs, drop in care, or holiday camps for young children in Paramus, Edgewater, and Hoboken NJ will benefit from the many ways that Prime Time Early Learning and our staff of trained and loving teachers can help you and your child during the day, and in the evening and weekends as well!