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Disciplining your 1-year-old

What works, what doesn't.

Your child has reached the age of discovery.

Like Columbus or Magellan, your child is exploring a new world. There are new things to see and learn about almost every day.

You're learning too. You're learning how to be a parent to this unique child. Effective and affectionate discipline is a part of that.

Why discipline is important

Discipline isn't just punishment.

In fact, it should be less about punishment and more about love and learning, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

At 12 months, kids have little understanding of concepts like "good" and "bad," says the AAP. It is an age of acting on impulse. Your toddler runs into the street because it's there, not because he or she wants to be "bad."

Discipline helps put kids on the path to learning right from wrong; it helps keep them safe.

You can provide discipline in a variety of ways.

Discipline with rewards

"I'm doing this because I love you."

Your parents might have said that when they disciplined you. And it's true: Discipline says "I care."

But a child is more likely to get that message if rewards for good behavior outnumber punishments for being bad. And at this age, one of the best rewards a child can receive is praise and affection, according to the AAP.

Rewards work best when they come right away. So if you see your child cleaning up toys, give him or her a hug right then.

If there is a behavior you want to discourage, the American Psychological Association (APA) recommends rewarding the child for doing the opposite. If your child doesn't pull items off the shelf at the store, for example, buy him or her a special treat.

Be sure to let your child know what behavior is being rewarded.

Discipline with consequences

Rewards teach a child that good behavior has consequences.

But bad behavior has consequences too. When your child misbehaves, you might want to try responding with one of the following strategies:

Ignoring. Sometimes misbehavior is a plea for attention, and the cure is simply ignoring it. That means not talking to or even looking at the child until the behavior stops, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Natural consequences. Let your child experience the natural outcome of bad behavior—within reason, of course. For example, if your child throws a toy on the floor and it breaks, don't rush to fix it right away.

Logical consequences. When a natural consequence is unreasonable, search for a logical one. For example, if your child throws dinner on the floor, it wouldn't be appropriate to withhold the entire meal. You could, however, logically withhold dessert.

Discipline do's and don'ts

The following tips come from the AAP:

  • DO childproof your home. Locking cabinets and removing breakables can limit how many times you have to say no.
  • DO try to prevent problems. For example, don't take your toddler shopping when he or she is tired.
  • DO stop to consider that your child might be misbehaving because he or she is too young to know what you want or can't do what you ask.
  • DON'T punish with emotional or physical pain. That only teaches resentment and anger.
  • DON'T criticize your child, criticize the behavior. "Don't run into the street" is better than "Bad boys run into the street."
  • DON'T use bribes to stop bad behavior. If you give a child candy to stop a tantrum, he or she has learned that tantrums lead to rewards.

Finally, DO give yourself permission to make mistakes. Discipline is a chance for you to learn too.

If you think you handled a situation badly, think about what you can do better next time.

Reviewed 12/19/2022

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