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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.
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.)
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.
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:
- Is the child frustrated or disappointed?
- 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.
If a child is screaming out of frustration….
- 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.
- Distract or redirect – if the child is frustrated because something is off limits, try distracting and redirecting.
- 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.