How to Effectively Discipline a 1 Year Old

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Today I’m going to outline a very effective plan for consistent 1 year old discipline for you to use with your toddler. From our experience of having 4 kids in 5 years, it’s never too early to start setting expectations and training your little ones. 1 year olds understand WAY more than we realize and you can set clear boundaries and enforce them in effective ways.

It might seem silly because those 1 year olds are so darn cute… with all their wobbling around and giggling at endless games of peekaboo. But teaching your 1 year old, “no” and learning how to discipline a 1 year old will set the stage for more obedient toddlers and preschoolers.

So let’s dive in!

Wait, what is “discipline” at this age anyway!?

The word discipline sounds so old fashioned and serious. It actually has Latin roots meaning “instruction, knowledge,” so in English, we use the word in a variety of ways.

But, when I’m talking about discipline for your 1 year old, I’m primarily talking about teaching and training that little giggly cutie pie to obey what you say to do.

You (the parent) are probably going to be the one who:

  • holds their hands as they learn to walk
  • teaches them how to say “please” in sign language
  • shows them what the letter A looks like
  • hears them sing Twinkle twinkle little star for the first time
  • shows them how to stir the brownie batter and not splatter it all over
  • teaches them how to make a cookie cutter shape in the playdough and stack the blocks up.

AND you can teach a toddler not to scream in your face when they don’t get their way. (Eventually.)

That teaching process is what I’m referring to as discipline. You have to have a pretty long view in mind when ti comes to training young children. Because it takes a long time. But you might as well begin as you mean to go on.

A Philosophy of Toddler Discipline 

At the age of 1, discipline is setting the foundation for HABITS and OBEDIENCE under a loving authority.

It primarily boils down to effective behavior modification and teaching your children about who is “in charge” in your home.

Important: the BEST book for parents of 1 and 2 year olds.

terrible twos tips book best book for toddler discipline
Best book ever for parents of toddlers (free on kindle unlimited!)

Honestly, this is the most practical, down to earth book I’ve ever read for parents of toddlers. And if your little one is only 9 months old, you will be well served by reading this BEFORE you have a 12-18 month old.

The “twos” can start anytime around age 1 1/2. John Rosemond does an AMAZING job of articulating what is ACTUALLY going on for 1-2 year olds, and how parents can help their little tots through the transition from baby to big kid. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE read this book!!!

You are the parent, you are in charge.

My husband and I advocate for a parent-led home. The best way to help your children feel like home is a safe place with clear expectations is for parents to be in charge of the home. Parents who set limits actually have happier kids in the long run. Plus, children with good behavior are generally happier than those with bad behavior. Starting out with this process when the child is only 1 year of age yields for a much happier home environment as your young toddlers grow into big kids.

And having parents who are in charge doesn’t mean the child is in charge of nothing. It means the parents are the ultimate authority and they are the ones who make decisions with the child’s best interests at heart.

The parent in charge can delegate many things to the little tot, giving him/ her many things to be in charge over. We say “yes” to a LOT of things for our small children. (John Rosemond explains this REALLY well in that book I recommended.)

  • You want to wear polka dots and stripes? Fine.
  • Mismatched socks? Go for it!
  • No coat in the rain? Sure! You’ll be wet but hey, to each his own.
  • 13 Books and 10 stuffed animals in bed? Seems uncomfortable to me, but why not?!
  • Take out all the pans in the cabinet? Noisy, but okay!
  • Push the kitchen chair over next to me so you can stand up on it, see, and “help”? Inconvenient, but sure, come on over.
  • Scream “no!!” and hit me in the face when you’re frustrated? NOPE.

It helps to agree with your spouse ahead of time what your “family rules” are going to be. You don’t have to have a fancy chart or anything, but you do have to decide where you’ll draw the line, how you’ll handle temper tantrums and time outs, etc.

You can be in charge without being a dictator AND while still allowing your child a lot of freedom and decision making. In fact, children feel MORE confident when they know their parents are the ones in charge.

Okay. Now that we’re on the same page about what 1 year old discipline means, let’s get to the nitty gritty practical tips …

Be Clear + Consistent + Reasonable 

A huge part of effective discipline (for any age child) is saying what you mean & meaning what you say. 

  • Don’t say “no no” in a sweet sing song voice if you aren’t willing to get up, walk across the room, and take the object or the child away. Be firm, clear, concise. 
  • Follow through quickly. If you say no, and the child goes for something, you have to respond calmly & immediately. You don’t need to have power struggles with your 1 year old. You’re the parent and the adult. You can remain calm but clear.
  • Pick and choose what is off limits. Children thrive when they can safely explore their environments. If you set up your home in a way that requires you to constantly follow your one year old around, he will be frustrated & you will be exhausted.

Say “That’s a No.” 

I have a whole separate post on the specific process of teaching your one year old what “no” means and how to follow through on training him to obey “no.” 

In that article, I explain why we say,“That’s a no,” for things that are off limits or unwanted behavior rather than just “no.” 

This phrase is more clear, firm, and concise. It’s a more intentional statement too. 

Some key points of teaching your toddler to obey “no,” is: 

  • only say “that’s a no,” when you mean it and intend to follow through
  • don’t say “no” in a sing songy voice – your tone should be calm, clear & firm. 
  • follow through if/ when your toddler disobeys. If the child does exactly what you told them not to do, there should be an immediate consequence… a time out chair, a loud clap to startle them away from it, a small flick on the hand, etc. The point of a hand-flick is to surprise them & have a minor negative reinforcement when they go for it… I’m not talking about hitting your child or extreme physical punishment that is emotionally driven by your own frustration. 
  • don’t say “no” all the time. (More about this below.)
discipline 1 year old no
Some of the “adult” things in your home should be available for free play and exploration.

Exploring + Childishness + Being One

1 year olds can learn to obey “no,” but don’t discipline a child for being childish. They’re 1, for goodness sake. Do not make every single thing in your home off limits. 

Your one year old is going to empty all your drawers and cabinets, climb the stairs, push your kitchen chairs around, explore and touch and eat everything. This is normal, curious 1 year old behavior. 

1 year old discipline & behavior no
If your 3 year old leaves her tea party out, your 1 year old will dump it all on the ground.

The stage of having a one year old can be particularly exhausting, especially if it’s your first 1 year old! One year olds are so, so busy, which requires a lot of patience. 

But, the stage of one can also be really sweet & enjoyable. Especially if you take deep breaths, relax, and embrace the facts of this age: 

  • One year olds explore. So close or lock places you don’t want to them to destroy. And do keep some drawers/ cabinets available. 
  • One year olds open and close and empty things. And for some reason, they seem to enjoy grown up things more than their toys. We always have a few drawers and cabinets that are a free for all. (Kitchen towels, cloth napkins, wooden utensils, tupperware, pots and pans, etc. I assume they’ll get routinely “reorganized” by the resident 1 year old & it’s no big deal. Parental expectations are key here! 

Baby Proofing + Proactive “Discipline”

Part of discipline is the parent in charge deciding how to make the home safe enough, but not obsess over a perfect child-friendly environment. Kids can learn that some things are off limits.

There are some things I intentionally choose not to remove and use those as teaching opportunities for “that’s a no.” 

These types of items are totally subjective. In general, I make sure the child doesn’t have access to legitimately dangerous situations that aren’t worth the risk – the poisonous toilet bowl cleaning powder, for example. I also don’t put sharp knives in the toddler-accessible silverware holder in the dishwasher, but I do allow the child to help me unload the dishwasher and hand me one silverware piece at a time. (Because another important part of discipline and training our children is actually reinforcing positive behavior such as helpfulness around the house, even if you can do it yourself 10x faster.)

We keep the bathroom doors closed, the glass cups up high, and my $2000 laptop out of reach.

I also remove glass items from end tables when the child is 8-10 months of age and just starting to pull themselves up on the edges of things. That’s a personal choice because I’m busy with older children and don’t want to be saying, “that’s a no” all day long. I also want to encourage new skills in a positive way. Once the pulling-up stage is over, the lamps & decorations can come back and the child will be old enough to learn not to yank them down.

Other than those things, we’ve chosen to make our home mostly safe and free for the kids to play in and explore, while also teaching them that a few things are off limits, which is reasonable.

Sorry-not-sorry to drone on about that Terrible Twos book, but Rosemond has a really helpful chapter that explains the 1 year old’s nature of exploring and how simply making your home a safe environment for your younger toddlers & older toddlers to explore will save you SO much grief with your curious tot.

Yes… I know we could just not have lamps or plants. (And we don’t have many.) But, I want our 14 month old to begin the process of learning to obey before we’re in a parking lot, and I need my child to immediately “STOP!” on command.

And I want to be able to sit at someone else’s house with lamps everywhere and just say, “that’s a no” and have the child listen and obey that.

That training process begins very young.

Toddler Tantrums & Frustrated Screaming

Ahhh those 14 month olds… they have so many opinions and so few words. Which leads to lots of screaming!

It’s always a good idea to discern the motive of the screaming/ crying in the first place:

  1. Is the child frustrated or disappointed?
  2. Are they attacking you and being defiant?

If a child is screaming because he is frustrated or disappointment, that’s a very normal behavior for this age group, especially if your child doesn’t have a lot of words yet. You can begin teaching a 1 year old that screaming when you’re frustrated is not an acceptable behavior, but it’s definitely a skill that grows with time & language acquisition.

1 year old discipline behavior screaming

If a child is screaming out of frustration….

  1. Give him a chance to figure out how to communicate his want. Try to figure it out & then teach a word or hand sign so the child can ask for it in the future.
  2. Distract or redirect – if the child is frustrated because something is off limits, try distracting and redirecting.
  3. Let the child have a moment to melt down and then tell him it’s time to move on and go about your business like nothing happened. Contrary to popular modern parenting ideals, we don’t need to coddle every little negative emotion in order to raise emotionally healthy self-aware children.

Here is an article with more ideas for helping your child exercise their patience muscle.

If a child (usually an older toddler) is screaming at you in defiance…

I recommend using a firm tone of voice and a negative consequence to make it clear that defiantly screaming at your parents is not acceptable.

The most successful discipline strategies for teaching your child not to scream at you in defiance are the same as above for teaching a child to obey “no.” It boils down to the parent being consistently firm, calm, clear, concise, and reasonable.

FIRM – Speak clearly, with a firm tone that isn’t sing-songy.

CALM – no need to engage in harsh verbal discipline. James 1:20 says, “The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Losing your temper at your younger children is not going to produce long term changes in behavior anyway, just older kids who walk on eggshells around you. Be the role model. Model remaining calm in your frustration.

CLEAR & CONCISE – As a general rule, you don’t need to say much to a toddler who is losing their mind on you. From a very young age, we just calmly & firmly said something like, “You can not scream at me when you don’t get your way. Time out.” And plopped the child in a chair or crib.

REASONABLE – Another good piece of parenting advice in the Bible is in Ephesians, directed towards fathers (but relevant to moms as well), “Do not exasperate your children.” We work hard to think through what we’re asking of our kids. To find a balance of teaching responsibility and also giving them space to be kids. You don’t need to follow your 1 year old around all the time… that would feel exasperating to me too.

Stay the Course!

At the end of the day, positive discipline strategies that are consistently calm, clear, and reasonable generally yield children who are happy and obedient.

Like I said, I highly recommend that John Rosemond Terrific Twos book for some humor, encouragement and tips…. the toddler stages (though tiring) are some of my favorite! Try to enjoy your children when they’re awake and relish those long afternoon naps. This season will pass before you know it.


1 year old discipline tips
1 year old obedience

19 thoughts on “How to Effectively Discipline a 1 Year Old”

  1. The comments on my site are turned off now, but I'd love to hear from you on Instagram! Follow me there & tag me in a comment or DM me. Xo I'm @MrsReneeCook on Instagram!
  2. You don’t sound like you’re grumbling!! You sound like it’s been a long, tiring couple of years. I’m so glad you found this post and took the time to comment. In addition to the John Rosemond toddler book, I’d highly recommend his book “The Well Behaved Child.” It’s more broad and there will be lots of philosophical and practical tips and tools in there for use with your 4 year old πŸ™‚ Hope it blesses your family!! xo, Renee !

  3. I came across this post quite late. I wish I had come read this a bit earlier.

    My son is already 18 months old. He has started throwing tantrums a since few days. He sits on the floor and cries bitterly if we say No. I try to distract him, but it doesn’t work at times. It could have saved us a few headaches πŸ˜‰
    My daughter was a sweet little girl. You could say sweetest one in the town till she was about 24 months old. After that, I don’t know what went wrong. She stopped eating fruits, she changed her eating habits and became a fussy eater. She started throwing tantrums which were bad enough to give me nightmares. We thought sending her to playgroup early would help her. So, we enrolled her in playgroup at the age of 2 and a half. This playgroup serves breakfast to kids, so we were hoping she would start eating foods as the other children do. Na da. Till she completed her nursery, she still refused to eat and still does. I have tried everything possible, nothing worked. She is a sweet child, till the tantrums start. Now she is four and we still have to face tantrums every other day. (It could be nutritional deficiency. Her paediatrician couldn’t figure it out). Her little brother tries to copy that. How bad can it get!!
    I am going to try and see if this works for us. Even if it’s a little late. Oh and we have been praying about it too. I hope I didn’t sound like I am grumbling lol.

    Thank you so much for posting this.

  4. Gotta do what works for you!! Glad you found some helpful things… starting the training process early will really help when the next little one comes along. Haha somewhere on this blog I have a post about 2 under 2 πŸ˜‰ We had 2 under 2 three times! LOL! Good luck!

  5. Dealing with an incredibly strong willed almost 14mo old daughter right now, who is my first, and man oh man is every day a doozy it seems like. I loved the phrase “that’s a no”! Definitely going to have to try that one. Not a fan of the phrase “listen and obey” however, I’m thinking “listen and follow” will work well for us, like following the leader or maybe even incorporate it with “mama says” so it’s like Simon Says. I realize she is not familiar with these games yet, but will be in the future and has an 11yo sister and will have a younger sibling come December. Thanks for the advice, I’m going to need it (and some patience, deep breaths right?! 🀣 )

  6. so glad this was helpful!! We’ve noticed phrases with the word “choice” are confusing for 1-2 year olds… the whole “make a better choice.” “Was that a good choice?” type phrasing seems to confuse them. I’d stick to short & sweet. “No. That’s a no. Here, do this instead.” πŸ™‚ welcome to the blog!!

  7. I know it’s an old post, but thank you! Oh my goodness. I have been a live in nanny, elementary school teacher, babysitter etc., all ages for 10+ years. But I now have a one year old of my own and WOW, she is giving us a run for our money. But I’m realizing that she will already do absolutely ANYTHING for attention, so your positive behavior suggestions are such a great idea. Like she LOVES pretending (or not pretending) to put forbidden things in her mouth so that I come running. Why haven’t I thought to play a game of chase with her just for fun? 🀦

    Or I love the “yes, mommy” and nodding suggestion because she already turns her head away when I want her to stop something and she doesn’t want to listen.

    We already do, “listen and obey” or “make a different choice” (even though I know she doesn’t understand, I always say this and then suggest something else to her when she is going for forbidden cords/outlets – also what we’ve been working on).

    I would add that sometimes when my little one just gets in screaming about everything fits (not even not getting her way, just screaming to scream), that 10 minutes of mommy play time does wonders. Sometimes I’ve been too focused on getting all the things done, and forget that she just needs some mom face time (not eating or getting dressed or whatever but me down in her world playing) to fill her little bucket. After that, she’ll usually quiet down and happily entertain herself for a good stretch.

    Anyways, excited to read more on your blog and will definitely check that book out!

  8. Thank you so much for talking about this. I have been reading everything I can to get advice on how to discipline my strong willed one year old. Your advice is so practical and loving. We have been struggling to find a good balance between making sure he doesn’t turn into a brat but also not crushing his spirit. This might just work for us!

  9. Briawna, yes! He actually became a Christian later in his adult life – so he’s been giving out parenting advice for decades, as a psychologist/ family counselor. He wrote several books over the past 30 years. Then, in his book “Parenting by the Book,” he shares the story of his conversion and how he realizes the basic, practical parenting advice that his grandma would have agreed with was actually mostly Biblical and he didn’t even know it. Haha! So, yes, he is a Christian. Although his writing is not directed at Christians at all. He takes a gentle-but-firm tone, and is very funny!

  10. Oh my goodness, Ariel!! I’m so glad you found this! And thank you – your words are kind. We are no “experts” by any means… but 4 one year olds + lots of prayer has given us some insight. πŸ™‚ Also we love John Rosemond’s book. His book, “Making the twos terrific” is a great read!

  11. Hi Renee!

    This has been the most helpful post on disciplining a young toddler in a godly way that I have read so far! I have a 15 month old son who has started throwing tantrums, and I was desperate to find a way to discipline him in a way he’d understand. I will try out your phrases and time out ideas, praying they work!

  12. Oh, Alura!! What a blessing to hear from you. God gave Alexander to YOU to be his mom, and that wasn’t a mistake!! Keep seeking the Lord – he has ALL wisdom for parenting. And in the meantime, I’m glad some of these blog posts were also helpful πŸ™‚

  13. I just had my son Alexander 14 months ago, and I feel like I blinked and all this time has just flown by SO fast, and the older he keeps getting the more and more I realize how totally unprepared I actually am. ??
    I had a pretty unstructured/tough upbringing (to say the least) so it’s like now I know for sure how I DON’T want to parent, but figuring out how I DO, in a way that is the best for my son, is proving to be alot more complicated.
    I just found your blog and it has seriously answered so many questions that I have been praying the Lord would give me some guidance on!
    I just wanted to let you know that you sharing your journey and parenting knowledge is truly appreciated, especially by this Momma! ?

  14. oh I’m so glad to hear that Devin!! No discipline method is foolproof but hopefully this helps you guys in a practical way!! It seems to me that homes with obedient children are happier πŸ™‚ both the parents and kids. So this is a great foundation!

  15. THANK YOU! For this post. We’ve been really struggling with our one year old. We’re 100% sure she understands β€œno” but she doesn’t react to it well. So helpful in our parenting. Thank you!

  16. Oops!! I got one of the titles wrong. I did like “Loving the Little Years,” but it’s not the one I was thinking of. “Loving the Little Years” was a fun, easy, encouraging read. But my ALL TIME FAVORITE motherhood book thus far is “Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full.” πŸ™‚ Sorry for the mixup!

  17. Hi Renee! I love this and am bookmarking it to share with Paul and for us to use in the very near future. My Emma turns 9 months next week and I know that all of this is just around the corner for us. I love your intentional parenting and wish I could be near you to get together and soak in your wisdom!! But for that reason I’m thankful your sharing your ideas on your blog πŸ˜‰ Do you have any books you recommend that have influenced your parenting values?

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