Wondering how to discipline a 1 year old who hits and throws tantrums? Discover techniques that will help toddlers behave, even at this age.
I wasn’t exactly sure how to discipline a 1 year old. As a first-time mom, I didn’t know what stage he was at developmentally, or how much “reasoning” he’d understand.
For instance, he’d bang on the sliding glass doors, despite me telling him “no” sternly, face and all. In fact, he seemed to want to see my reaction and repeat the banging, laughing all the while.
It wasn’t only the doors, either.
He was also starting to get into a lot of things he shouldn’t, despite constant reminders. I tried telling or showing him what he couldn’t do to no avail. Hair pulling, throwing toys, and yanking on the blinds were just a few things he seemed to know he shouldn’t do—but still did.
While he was no longer a baby, he wasn’t exactly a communicative preschooler yet. I wanted to start a good discipline routine and set standards as he grew up. But how are you supposed to tell a 1 year old “no” and have him understand?
How to discipline a 1 year old
Later, I learned I was not alone. In fact, many parents have no idea how to discipline a 1 year old. Everything we say to them is either funny or confusing to them, or we’re outright ignored.
You may have tried timeouts, but your 1 year old ended up loving it (and even stood on her chair). She knows she’s not supposed to climb the stairs, but does it anyway (even when you give her a firm “no”). You want to get this under control now before things get worse.
But how do you let her know that some of her behavior—biting your arm, hitting dad’s head with a toy car—is not appropriate?
Rest assured, friend, you’ve come to the right place. I learned that disciplining a 1 year old isn’t exactly the same as disciplining older kids. At this age, they still have no impulse control, much less a fully-developed brain to guide them toward better decisions.
In other words, sometimes they just can’t help it.
Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t begin to discipline. But first, understand that “discipline” isn’t punishment, timeouts, or spanking—it’s teaching. Use your child’s challenging behavior as an opportunity to teach him how to behave in a firm yet loving way.
1. Move your 1 year old to a different location
Redirection isn’t always possible, or appropriate. If your 1 year old is genuinely upset and hits you in the face, you don’t redirect her toward something else she can hit.
In that case, sometimes moving her to a different location is the first and necessary step, before things escalate. Perhaps she’s overstimulated by the environment, or she’s about to hurt someone or break something. Physically moving her somewhere else can be the best choice.
Still, that doesn’t mean she can’t learn something valuable. If she’s hitting another child, acknowledge her emotions (“You feel mad that he took your toy”) and show empathy (“I’d feel mad, too”). Perhaps you need to let her crumble in your arms, away from the situation that triggered her reaction.
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2. Redirect your 1 year old to a similar (but more appropriate) activity
My 1 year old had a tendency to want to climb on the TV table—not exactly the safest activity. But rather than saying, “Don’t climb,” I learned to redirect him to a similar but more appropriate activity. I would say, “Let’s not climb on the TV stand—the glass can break. But let’s practice climbing on the bed.”
You see, 1 year olds are more curious than defiant. They’re practicing skills and exploring their world, unaware that climbing the TV table isn’t as safe as climbing on the bed. Climbing isn’t bad per se, but it isn’t always safe in every circumstance.
Honor your 1 year old’s impulse to climb, draw, or throw by redirecting her to an activity that allows her to do just that in a safe environment.
3. Baby-proof your environment
As frustrating as it can be that your toddler doesn’t listen, part of that lies in your hands.
In fact, you can slash the number of times you say “no” by preventing the misbehavior to begin with. Think of the times you’ve told him to stop playing with the phone when you could’ve tucked it out of reach. Or always moving him away from the stairs when a simple baby gate would do the trick.
Hearing “no” constantly can be hard for any 1 year old. Instead, make your home a “yes” environment by setting it up ready for him to explore. You see, it’s good that he’s curious and “getting into things”—they just need to be safe and appropriate things to get into.
You might even prevent plenty of tantrums and misbehavior by exposing him to places where exploration is encouraged. Think hands-on museums, mommy-and-me music classes, and age-appropriate gym classes.
4. Use these as opportunities to teach
As important as it is to tell your 1 year old what not to do, use these opportunities to teach him what to do instead.
Show him how to climb down safely from the couch, gently pat the dog, or feed himself finger foods. After all, body language, tone of voice, and facial expression are far more effective ways to communicate than words ever can.
As they say, modeling is the best way to teach. This is the time when he learns these basic skills and make better choices. Even if it feels like he’s out to irritate you, more than likely, he’s learning the proper way to do these things.
Want to take it up a notch? Focus more on telling him what to do, instead of what not to do. “Walk” or “Be gentle, like this” are more effective than “Don’t run” or “Don’t yank.”
5. Give positive attention when your 1 year old behaves well
Kids continue behaviors that get attention—whether positive or negative. The constant “no’s,” the crazy reactions they get… these only encourage them to keep going with these very behaviors we’re trying to correct.
That said, focus less on correcting your 1 year old and more on praising her for the times she makes good choices.
Let’s say she walked to the front door all on her own without nagging. She’ll likely continue doing so if you say, “Look at you, walking to the front door all on your own!” Even a simple hug and kiss sends the message that this is something that will get your attention.
Praising positive actions also reminds you that tough times aren’t always so tough. Remembering how far she has come along reminds you that you have more good moments than you give yourself credit for.
Yes, you’re more likely to notice a screaming child than one quietly playing, but start to notice when your 1 year old does behave. A simple “Thanks for playing on your own while Mama prepares dinner” is enough for her to know that what she’s doing is pretty darn good in your book.
6. Find the underlying reasons
As much as it may seem like your 1 year old is out to push your buttons, more than likely, he’s responding in ways he knows how. He isn’t able to say, “Mama, I’m tired from being out all day.” Instead, he’ll throw a fit and refuse to sit still in the grocery cart.
What could be triggering him to behave this way? Could he be exhausted and hungry? He could be overwhelmed with all the visitors he’s met. Perhaps he’s too young to meet your expectations, like being out most of the day on errands or following a string of instructions for the first time.
Even better: use these opportunities to connect with him. Now that you know the possible triggers and have learned a bit more about him, you can then communicate better. You might say, “You’re pretty tired from being out all day. Let’s go home and snuggle on the couch now.”
7. Stay calm
Rather than trying to change your child’s behavior, focus first on staying calm throughout.
The more agitated you get, the worse she spirals down. It’s so easy to react and respond with anger when she’s driving your nuts. But here’s the thing: you need to hold your ground.
You see, tantrums scare her. If she can unnerve even you, if her own parents can’t help her through her meltdowns, then who will?
Besides, staying calm is more effective than yelling. Think about the last time you yelled versus having stayed calm. No matter how difficult it was to keep your anger at bay, her tantrum probably ended a whole lot faster than when you yelled.
Now is the time to give her lots of love, even as you set firm boundaries. You really can be consistent with your expectations and be loving at the same time.
With your child no longer a “baby” but still not one of the “big kids,” learning how to discipline a 1 year old can be a challenge for many moms. After all, their understanding of the world is still growing, as is their curiosity and desire to explore.
Still, you can discipline your child when you remember that “discipline” is teaching, not punishments. For one thing, redirect her to a similar but more appropriate activity. You’re honoring her impulses while still keeping her safe.
If need be, moving her to a new location is the best choice, as is baby-proofing the environment in the first place. Despite these challenges, use these opportunities to teach and model how to behave, rather than focusing so much on what not to do.
Then, offer plenty of positive reinforcement when you catch her behaving well to encourage more of the same. Find underlying reasons she may be behaving this way, from feeling tired to not being developmentally ready for what she’s being asked to do.
And most important, stay calm. Your demeanor sets the stage, and it’s perfectly fine to walk out of the room or take a break if it means calming down first. That way, you’re better able to respond in an intentional way, rather than reacting to her every antic.
I knew I was entering the toddler stage when my no-longer-a-baby son kept getting into things he wasn’t supposed to. But I also learned that disciplining a 1 year old is absolutely possible—even if he bangs on the glass doors with a smirk on his face.
Get more tips:
- What to Do when You’re Dealing with 1 Year Old Tantrums Already
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Hits
- How to Get Things Done with a Toddler
- Consequences for Kids That Actually Work
- 5 Things to Remember when You’re Losing Your Temper with Your Toddler
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