Should I Discipline My One Year Old?

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Liam may be the sweetest 90% of the time, but he does have those occasional moments when Joe and I both look at each other and go, Uh oh, how the hell are we supposed to handle this one?

In the last few weeks, I really started thinking it was time to set some clear boundaries. At a little over a year, Liam understands a lot more than we give him credit for: he’s clever and constantly tests us to see if we’re consistent, so we’ve made an effort to (gently) start disciplining him.

The last thing we want is one of those controlling toddlers who gets his way by shrieking at the top of his lungs in TJ Maxx. No thank you.

Just like having a varied diet, I think disciplining your child has a lot to do with habit.  If you teach your child that some things are simply unacceptable and/or dangerous, they will eventually catch on and listen (with exceptions, of course. Every child’s allowed to have a meltdown! They’re not robots 🙂 ).

The key, I think, is to discipline our toddlers in an intelligent way that resonates with them. Because let’s admit it, our toddlers can be quite stubborn when they want to be!


So, without further ado, here’s how we plan on disciplining Liam . . .  



As our little one starts to discover the world on his two feet, it’s important to guide him through it. I think it’s important to be a hands on parent when it comes to discovering the world and that it’s never too early to teach our littles ones to be curious! When we do activities together, indoors and out, I constantly point to things so that Liam understands what they are (trees, cars, birds, clouds, etc…). It has become one of his favorite activities! I like to encourage Liam to touch things that are safe (tree bark, grass, or sand, for example), guide him when he touches things that are “fragile” (dogs, other people’s faces) by saying “gentle” over and over, and explain why certain things are off limits (“ouch” if something is hot, for example.) As parents, we lead by example… This is a great time to start teaching them the basic rules of life.


Especially when it comes to baby proofing, it’s essential to think like your child. I frequently get on the floor with Liam to see the things he sees at his eye level, like electrical sockets, cupboards, lamps, etc.


When you tell your toddler that something is off limits, make sure you, your partner, and all other caregivers are on the same page. There should be no room for confusion, here. If it’s not allowed, it’s just not allowed. Ever. Communication among adults is especially important, here.


Instead of scolding Liam for doing something he isn’t allowed to do, I find that I’ve had a lot more success by redirecting him towards something that he is allowed to do. If he is running towards  the stove, for example, I’ll take his hand and go, “hey! Look how cool this water bottle is!” Most of the time, even with a stubborn child, it works like a charm.


I’m a big believer in explaining everything to Liam, even the smallest details. If he isn’t allowed to do something, I tell him why. If he points to something, I tell him what it is and how it works. If he is fussy and crying, I’ll acknowledge the reason why he is upset, and explain why he shouldn’t be. It may seem way beyond his years at times, but I really do think we underestimate his ability to understand what we’re truly saying. The kid gets it!


It sucks to say “no” all the time and I get how, in our homes especially, it’s tough to let our toddlers roam freely. So many dangers! For that reason, we have a designated, fenced in space for Liam to play freely where nothing is off limits. I also think it’s important to pick your battles: if your baby wants the remote control or home phone, just take out the batteries and let him enjoy  it for a little. Some things might seem “annoying” to us, but we forget that it is only by being hands on that our little ones learn!


So that’s it, our list so far! We’ve had success with some of these and are still working on others. Hope you enjoyed reading! If you have discipline tips that worked in your household, please do not hesitate to share. I love a good success story 🙂

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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