You might think that disciplining a one year old sounds harsh. Discipline is frequently considered synonymous with punishment, but while punishment is a penalty for bad behavior, discipline is about teaching. In her book, The Good News About Bad Behavior, Katherine Reynolds Lewis says, “When I think of discipline, I think of the time and practice we all need to commit to as our children study the ways of the world and the results of their actions and slowly learn to control themselves.” She explains that the role of parents “isn’t to preside over an always peaceful household; it’s to see disruptions as a chance to better understand our children and help them grow.”
Rex Forehand, author of Parenting the Strong-Willed Child, suggests that parents “create an environment that is most conducive to good toddler behavior. If they’re into something they’re not supposed to do, the idea is not to punish them but to get another activity going or pick them up and put them in another room.”
Children develop at different rates. At one year, most are becoming more mobile and are discovering new things to see and touch. They start to see themselves as separate from their parents and assert their independence. They understand most of what adults are saying and their vocabulary is growing, but they still struggle to communicate. Each day they discover how to do something new and need parents to teach them appropriate behaviors. If you’re wondering how to best discipline your one year old child, here are 10 expert tips to follow.
1. Use “No!” judiciously
A stern “No!” has more power when it is infrequently used. Save this to indicate danger, for example reaching for a hot pan, rather than for minor offenses such as taking shoes off in public. Frame lessons in a positive way, such as “We keep our shoes on unless we’re at home,” to explain what behavior we want to see. Limiting our own use of “no” may also reduce the number of times our children say it.
2. Be consistent
Children thrive on consistency. Try to keep to a regular schedule so your child knows what to expect. Provide warnings about changes and transitions to minimize meltdowns. While parents and caregivers may have different styles, all caregivers should follow the same rules.
3. Choose your battles
Children need and want limits, but they also need some freedoms to explore and learn. Decide which limits are non-negotiable (such as buckling into a car seat or holding hands while walking outside). Jane Anderson, MD, a clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, says that to be effective, “Parents should be smart enough to only pick the battles they can win.”
4. Set boundaries
Noted pediatrician and child development expert Dr. Sears explains, “Boundaries provide security for the child whose adventurous spirit leads him to explore, but his inexperience may lead him astray.” Consider these limits not only a way to protect your child, but also a foundation for future life lessons. Give your child word cues to indicate what can be touched and what can’t, and which behaviors are acceptable and not. Help your child name their feelings and help them find acceptable ways to express them.
5. Distract and redirect
One year old children explore using their hands and mouths. While you shouldn’t have to live in a barren environment, it’s important to put dangerous and fragile items out of reach. According to the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), “Distraction and diversion are the best disciplinary measures for infants and toddlers. Changing the environment or the activity is an effective way to change your child’s behavior.” Distractions can be simple, such as using humor: call a truck a banana or wear a colander for a hat. If your child grabs a “forbidden” object, try using the “Bait and Switch” method: replace it with one that is acceptable. This is an especially helpful way to teach older siblings to protect their cherished items.
6. Model behavior
When you’re communicating with your child, stay calm and speak softly. This will encourage them to listen quietly to hear you. Realize that your reactions to situations will influence your child’s. For instance, tell them to “Be gentle” around any pets and show them how to pet the dog with a flat hand or two fingers. Consistency is also important. If the rule is to eat snacks in the kitchen, don’t bring yours in the living room.
7. Validate feelings
Adults know that there are things we have to do, no matter how we feel about them. Children need to learn this. They may not like the car seat, but they still have to be in it. So take the time to teach your child that it’s okay to not want to do things, but not to refuse to do them.
8. Ignore bad behavior and praise good behavior
One effective disciplinary technique is to refuse to respond to a whining child until they speak nicely. You can also try turning away from them when they retaliate by hitting or biting you. The AAP suggests that parents, “Give immediate praise for behaviors you want to reinforce. Don’t laugh or smile at behaviors that you do not want to continue.”
9. Anticipate problems
Your child will have tantrums. Often these occur when they are tired or hungry. Try to avoid making plans at nap or mealtimes. When your child gets upset, stay calm, losing control will send the message that there is something to fear. Tantrums are usually born out of frustration. The AAP says that, “If your child is safe, simply wait it out. Calm parents can often figure out why the child is frustrated. It is best to get curious, not furious.”
10. Don’t expect perfection
Your child is still learning the “rules” and will need reminders. At this age, children don’t have the self-control to always behave and are easily distracted by novel things. They need time and space to move and explore. They need parents to teach them what behaviors are acceptable and safe.