How to “discipline” your one year old…


What age you should start “disciplining” your child?

I was inspired to write this post because of reading Whitney Ports insta post where she was asking questions like “when should kids be taught the difference between right and wrong, safe and unsafe, good and bad, nice and mean. She mentions not wanting to be one of those no no no no parents but also doesn’t want her child to have no boundaries. Her question is such a great one and is something that I am currently going through with my almost 1 year old. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Play Therapist and am still navigating mom life day by day. This post explains how I have used my knowledge in the field of child development when working with my 1 year old.

Baby Discipline: 1 year old

The first step is to exchange the word “discipline” for the word “teach”. It is a parents job to “teach” their baby about the world even before age 1. All the ways you interact with your child teach your child about their world. Starting at birth we want to teach our children that the world is a safe place, their needs will be met, and that there is an adult who is bigger/stronger/wiser who will take care of them and keep them safe. So even though I am suggesting you get rid of the word “discipline” from your parenting vocabulary, your children still will learn boundaries that you teach and set for them.

How to teach your 1 year old “to mind”:

This is kind of an old timey phrase that my parents generation used “teach that kid to mind” type of mentality. The fact is that if we set up a child’s environment in a way that will lead to their success, the focus shifts from teaching them to mind to teaching them how to thrive.

Setting your child’s environment up for success:

It is important to try to create an environment for your child where they can be as successful as possible. I have done my best to child proof my house so that my little one can be free to explore most things. When the house is child proofed I do not have to spend as much time and stress telling my child “no” every 5 seconds because they are getting into things. I have become way less stressed and my child is happier. At this age children are so curious about everything and by child proofing as best as possible, I can let my child explore and he loves this. He hates being in a play pen. I have a play pen and I use it when I have to but I try let him be free to explore most of the time. Another thing I try to do is give my child ample time of outdoor activities. Taking a walk, splashing in the pool, swinging on the park swings, going to feed the ducks. During most of these activities I realize that I hardly ever have to tell my child no because they are having so much fun. I think that when children get bored they tend to “get into stuff” a lot more. If the weather isn’t good or swimming isn’t an option I will let my little guy splash in the sink in his bath chair or in the tub. This is a great way for him to expel energy. Babies who get their energy out and have ample time for play and exercise exhibit less acting out behaviors. I try to almost never tell my child no (I am constantly working on this even though saying no is sometimes my first instinct). I think you want to provide so many “yes” experiences by creating a proper environment described above that you only have to say no on rare and serious occasions.

Is it ever okay to use the word “no” when disciplining your child?

The fact is, if you constantly say “no” to your child you will begin to sound like a broken record and they will completely disregard what you are saying. Children will take attention any way they can get it and if they realize that doing things they are not suppose to do causes you to come over to them and say no and make a big fuss, they will continue to do the things just to push your buttons and get a reaction out of you.

One exception that I use the word “no” for is physical harm and danger. But even in these types of situation you can often correct the behavior without actually saying the word “no”. Say your child is pulling your hair. You can say “no hurting mommy” or “be gentle” or “mommy’s hair is not for pulling”. If my child kept pulling my hair I would say “no hurting mommy” and put my child down or move myself out of harms away. I would then try to engage my child in a new activity “look, lets play over here with your toy car”. Redirecting your child to a more acceptable activity is a great way to change their behavior in a positive way.

Using empathy when you set limits with you child:

This is one of the most helpful concepts in working with children of all ages. Say your one year old is about to reach their hand in the toilet because they think it is fun to splash in there you can say ” I know you think that is really fun but our toilet is not for splashing in” and pick them up and move them to a safe location. Toilet locks come in handy as well so you can prevent the whole situation or keeping the bathroom door shut but sometimes your little ones discover new things and you have to respond in the moment. Another example of using empathy when setting limits or boundaries with your child: say your child is banging a toy on your glass coffee table you might say “I know you are really having fun making music with that but our table is not for breaking” and hand them a soft toy that they can hit on the table that will not break the table (or just get rid of the glass table…because is it really worth it?)

Discipline approaches that you should never use:

One approach that I think is absolutely NOT a good approach would be to try to disiciple a 1 year old with using a fear method, such as spanking them for getting into things they aren’t suppose to or for not listening. Child Development theorists Erik Erikson would say that during 0-18 months a baby is learning to either trust or mistrust their caregivers and the outcome of this can either be a healthy trajectory for your child or a negative one. Attachment theory explains that when a parent consistently meets a child’s needs in a loving way the child learns that their parent is a “secure base” (a safe person to turn to in times of fear) to seek comfort and reassurance. By using fear as a means to “control” your 1 year old, you are teaching them that they cannot always trust you and that sometimes you are frightening (which is extremely damaging to children emotionally).

Increasing positive interactions with your child will decrease the need for “discipline”:

If you are stressing out about how to discipline your child, I urge you to change your focus on increasing positive interactions with your child. Instead of following your one year old around waiting for them to “get into something” create a situation in which you can play with them. Carry them to a safe play space and say to them “lets play”. Put your phone and other distractions away and be present with your child more often throughout the day. I have found that when I am fully available to my child not only physically there with them but mentally and emotionally present to play with him, he his less interested in “getting into things” and more interested in playing with me.

Final thoughts:

Remember your goal is to be your child’s teacher. If they are doing something they are not suppose to do, teach them what they can do. Remember to limit the amount of words you use when you are trying to get your point across to your child. One rule of thumb is use 1 word for every year old that they are. For example, if my 1 year old tries to eat a leaf off the ground I will take it out of his mouth and say one word “yucky”. I try to use some of the same very simple phrases over and over with my child to help it sink in such as: “not safe” and “be gentle”. Be aware of the positive to negative ratio of comments you make to your child in a day. You want most of your interaction with your child to be positive. If you find yourself constantly correcting your child, find ways to comment on the positive things they are doing.

Check out some of my other posts:

A Gentle Approach to Sleep Training:

The Ultimate Calming Bedtime Routine:

#1 Tip for Calming a Fussy Baby:

Check out this DIY kid sleep hack :

Why Bubble Gum Can Help Your Child’s Sensory Needs:

I am always looking for new parenting questions and topics that people have to write about, I would love to hear from you!

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