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How to Discipline a 1 Year Old

by | Oct 26, 2019 | Gentle Parenting | 7 comments

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New motherhood is a wonderful and exciting time, little newborn cuddles and coos, the first smile, learning to crawl. The first year of your baby’s life is so exciting, but around your little one’s first birthday you might be starting to wonder how to discipline a 1 year old.

It’s no secret that discipline has to start eventually, and by 1 years old you might want to stop them from climbing on the coffee table or you might already be dealing with tantrums.

Here is the Gentle Parenting approach to discipline a 1 year old.

Start with Understanding

Before we jump into discipling a 1 year old, we need to have some understanding about where they are at and what we can expect from them.

1 year olds are curious

1 year olds are very curious, the world has just gotten so much bigger as they’re crawling or walking to explore the world around them. Every experience they have is an opportunity for learning as they experience things with different senses and in different ways. This is a natural thing for human babies to do because it is how they learn.

As parents, we should be encouraging and empowering them to learn more and more. This is why I have always liked to set up my house so my little one could go where she pleases, but if there were certain places I didn’t want her to go or things that were unsafe for her to touch I would make it impossible for her to get to it. I set up baby gates where necessary and moved breakable items out of her reach.

I know some parents are not a fan of “baby proofing” but it can save a lot of frustration for both of you in the long run. Instead of constantly having to be on your little one about staying out of the cupboard under the sink it might just be easier (and safer) to buy a baby latch.

You won’t have that baby latch forever, eventually your child will be old enough to learn not to play with the stuff under there and you’ll even be able to explain to them why it’s not ok.

In an effort to encourage curiosity, it is good to set up your home environment in a way that allows your 1 year old’s natural curiosity to take place.

Can 1 year olds be expected to follow rules?

My answer is, yes and no.

There are things you can gently teach your 1 year old, or help them to lose interest in, but it will take a lot of patience on your part. Say your 1 year old always climbs on the coffee table, you can redirect him or her to something else to do, or a safer place to climb. You can distract and redirect them every time they do it and hopefully they will eventually lose interest and stop doing it.

But what about telling them, “No” every time they do it, or smacking their hand to get them to stop?

Seems like a reasonable thing to do, and I know a lot of parents who would do it that way, but here’s the thing.

No is a command, not a teaching. In the end, I want a child who has a heartfelt willingness to do what’s good. I want her to choose to do the right things. Discipline actually means to teach, so my goal with discipline is to teach my child, not control her. “No” without instruction is a commanding and controlling word.

It’s an easy word to say though, especially when you are scared for their safety. I would challenge you to try more positive language however, and you can read more about that here.

As for hand smacking, this doesn’t create a heartfelt willingness to do what’s right either. It might get the behaviour to stop which might meet a short term goal, but in the long run it creates a fear based obedience.

So can these 1 year olds be expected to follow rules?

I think we can expect ourselves to redirect our 1 year olds, and that overtime they will learn what is ok and what is not ok, but it will take repetition and time. And it is not always linear. At any age you might feel like your child has finally “mastered” something but they go back to their old way. It takes time to master something, and even after a long time of the child doing the “right” thing they might go back and do that “bad” thing again. 

So How to Discipline a 1 Year Old?

When it actually comes to disciplining a 1 year old here are the things I want you to remember

  1. Be patient
  2. Connect
  3. Redirect

At 1 years old, this is really what you need to remember. If you just remember these 3 things positive discipline will become easy and as they get older and you need to add more tools to your discipline toolkit it will come easily to you because of this original foundation. So let’s get started.

#1. Be patient

Do you want your child to be obedient immediately, all the time, or do you want a child who chooses to do the right thing?

Immediate, unquestioned obedience can be convenient at times, especially when you’re out in public or you’ve had a long and exhausting day, but for the child’s sake it might not be the best thing. Child who are trained to obey immediately, without question, can go through more rebellion in their teen years as they start to resist the control that has been over them for most of their life.

Children, just like any human beings, like to be able to control themselves rather than being controlled. As your baby steps into toddlerhood you will see how true this really is.

Giving your 1 year old the chance to control themselves is a gift. Rather than swooping in and physically removing them from the coffee table that they’re starting to climb on, patiently ask them to come down or gently help them step off and come down. By giving them this bit of control you’re helping them to learn what you want them to do.

Discipling a child takes a lot of patience, whether that child is 1 years old or 17 years old.

Since discipline means to teach, we should understand that it will come slowly. There are some things we can learn after 1 lesson, but other things that take many lessons before we can get it right, and even then it might still be hard.

What were your best and worst subjects in school?

For me, English was my best and math was my worst. If we had a new lesson in grade 12 IB English I could pick up on it quickly and I didn’t have to study very hard to get A’s.

Math was a different story. For math I never felt like I truly understood what was going on and we would start a new unit before I had totally grasped the previous. I would study like crazy and still barely pass the class. Some days though I felt like I finally “got it” but then the next day my head would be spinning again.

For your child and their behaviour it might be the same. Some things they will learn quite easily, but other things will be hard for them. Somethings they will learn right away, other things you might have to really help them with, and through it all you will need patience.

Because learning isn’t always linear.

Sometimes it takes a child a long time to finally master something. Don’t get frustrated if you feel like they’re taking a step, “backwards,” it’s just the process.

As you start adding discipline into your child’s life, stay focused on being patient. Try not to get frustrated or overwhelmed. Your patience is a great example for them, they will learn to stay calm by watching you stay calm.

Related: The #1 Thing for Amazing Parenting: Self Care for Moms

#2. Connect

Connection is a really important part of discipline. By developing love and trust between you and your child it will make them more receptive to your discipline. By creating an atmosphere of love and trust it will make it much easier for them to do what you want them to do and to hear your correction.

Connection comes by spending time together, attending to their needs promptly, refraining from raising your voice at them or using physical punishment. As a 1 year old it’s much harder to trust someone who loves you one moment and hits you the next, especially when they don’t understand what they did “wrong.”

Connection is also an important part of correction. By using gentle hands as you remove your child from the coffee table, or as you get down to their eye level as they are starting up a tantrum, you are connecting with them and showing them that you are on their team and they two of you can tackle this together.

As your child gets older and you have to deal with more tantrums and outbursts there is something I want you to keep in mind – the left brain and the right brain.

The left brain is the logical, reasoning side. It’s the side of the brain that understands that mommy didn’t bring the red cup to the picnic so the blue cup will have to do.

The right brain is the emotional, feelings side. It’s the side that is upset that there is only the blue cup and refuses to drink from that silly blue cup and wants the red cup.

When anyone becomes highly emotional, the right side of the brain takes over and totally overpowers the left side of the brain. If you’re trying to talk to the left side of the brain while they right side is screaming, it won’t hear you.

When your child is emotional, talk to their emotional side. Give them comfort and security so they can calm down. Prioritize that connection, love and trust so you will be able to access that left side.

You might not be having a lot of logical conversations with your 1 year old, but understanding this now will help you as you prepare for the future and as you try to decipher what’s going on in their head.

Give your 1 year old connection and love, even when their behaviour is testing you. Here are some ways to do so while you are challenged by their behaviour.

  • Get down to their eye level
  • Use a calm and gentle voice
  • Rub their back
  • Gently guide them in the direction you want to go (gentle hands instead of abrupt movements)

    Related:  Toddler Tantrums (The Full Effective Guide)

What to Say During Toddler Tantrums

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#3. Redirect

At 1 years old, your child might not be old enough to understand why they can or cannot do something. The concept of “dangerous” doesn’t make sense, or what is and isn’t “socially acceptable.” It is up to you to teach them these things, and even when they are 1 you can use words like “Danger,” and over time they will learn what that means, but for now redirection is your best friend.

One day they will be able to assess danger on their own. They will know that screaming happily at the top of their lungs in your ear is not acceptable. Eventually they will know.

As for now, you can keep it simple. You can say, “That is dangerous,” or “Wow, that is too loud in my ears,” and redirect them to something else.

Label the behaviour, but not your child. Identify what is/isn’t ok about the behaviour but resist labeling them, (ex. “You are bad.”)

Redirection is as simple as, “Let’s go play over here instead,” or, “Look at this.”

If your 1 year old refuses and wants to continue with what they are doing even though it’s not safe or ok, you can say, “I can see that you really want to continue, but this isn’t safe and it’s my job to keep you safe. I’m going to pick you up now and take you away from this.”

They might cry a little bit, give them some comfort. Then help them to do something else, give them something else to play with.

Discipling a 1 Year Old Doesn’t Have to be Complicated

As an advocate for Gentle Parenting, I don’t recommend punishments (timeouts, spankings, etc.) It’s mostly about having a healthy relationship with our child so we can help teach them to choose to do the right things.

It takes a long time, and maybe it means they won’t be the “most well behaved kids” at playgroup, but it might mean they are the most emotionally sound and thoughtful adults. Keep your eyes on the prize, your little one might just be 1 year old, but one day they will be 18.

At 1 years old you are building trust between you and your child, developing your own patience and starting to label for them what is and is not ok.

Discipling a 1 year old doesn’t have to be complicated, keep it simple and stay patient.

If you want more information about discipling a toddler I would recommend you check out the post about how to discipline a toddler or enroll from the FREE Gentle Foundations for Parenting course.


The Moving Mama

The Moving Mama

Lizzy Mash is an experienced early childhood educator now living in Africa as a missionary working with children and families.

She teaches Christian moms how to take a more respectful and Christ-like approach to motherhood by using Gentle Parenting strategies.

Read more about Lizzy here >>


  1. Asia Rosario

    Thank you for this. My 15-month-old is (like any other 1 year old) testing boundaries and VERY curious about things she should not be touching!

    • Lizzy Mash

      I bet she’s learning so much through all that curiosity 🙂

  2. Stephanie

    I’m a nanny and this is a great article I shared with the nanny I’m training. Thank you for your time.

  3. Tamra

    These are great tips. I agree that connecting with the child helps a lot and will make the child more receptive.

    • Lizzy Mash

      I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  4. Rachel

    This was very helpful thank you! My little guy is 1 and has started throwing little tantrums here and there when he can’t have or do what he wants. All the other info I’ve found so far on discipline wasn’t very clear or helpful.

    • Lizzy Mash

      I’m so glad you found this helpful! Tantrums can be so hard to deal with, it’s good to have some helpful tools.


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