How to Discipline a One-Year-Old Child

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Your one-year-old has had quite a year so far; there are lots of things to learn and experiment with at this age. Some pediatricians call the first three months the "fourth trimester" because human infants have such large heads that they have to be born before they are actually mature enough to interact with the outside world. Hearing, sight and touch are the senses that will develop baby's mind for social interaction and learning during the first year and prepare your infant for further healthy development. You, the parent, are the liaison between your baby and the world.

Your Tone, Volume, and Expressions

  • Use "no" only when danger is imminent. A one-year-old child is on the cusp of several developmental milestones all at once. He may be saying a single word clearly, like "Dada." He understands the word "no" and he knows how to laugh. Instead of saying "no," establish direct eye contact and explain the problem and solution in calm and simple language. Instead of saying "no" all the time, encourage good behavior with laughter, smiles, and positive reinforcement.

  • Don't use an angry, spiteful, or humiliating tone or expression. Check the developmental milestones for a one-year-old; they don't include "plots against her parents to make messes" or "misbehavior to get a rise out of mama." Using "adult" emotions is not only wasted on a one-year-old, but you are inuring your child to ignore these emotions during later development. This can frustrate a parent into using angrier, more spiteful and more humiliating language that is abusive and useless. You are also teaching your child to use these tones when she wants to get her way. Be kind, thoughtful and explain with words and examples how to behave properly. Don't focus or dwell on misbehavior. Move on to an opportunity to reward good behavior and leave the negativity behind.

  • A child learns that his actions sometimes get a rise out of Mom or Dad. Don't be controlling and respond to everything your child does; you might be inadvertently causing the behaviors. Make sure you spend enough time interacting physically and mentally with your child that he doesn't need to act up to get attention.

  • Correct any problems while explaining calmly what you are doing; children understand speech before they can talk. The baby is starting to grasp objects with her thumb and forefinger, which leads to throwing and dropping objects. She can sit up by herself and should be crawling or even taking her first steps on her own. These new behaviors should be encouraged under safe conditions. If your child gets into a messy or dangerous situation, you have probably failed to control her environment.

  • Don't isolate your child. The most important and trusted bond--between the child and parents--is peaking in importance between nine and 18 months. This is when children exhibit their greatest separation anxiety and apprehension toward strangers. Don't abuse your trust by sending your child to his room or putting him in a corner by himself. Work through the bad behavior and explain to or show your child the correct behavior. Immediately reward the child with kind words and facial expressions when he adopts the correct behavior.

  • Discipline is teaching your child how to speak and act with safety and concern for herself and others. Your acts of discipline are the way you want your child to act and speak. You are teaching her how you get your way. This is an example that your child will imitate when she wants to get her way. Do you want her to yell or be unreasonable in her demands? Your calm, measured discipline is an example that your child will imitate throughout further development and for the rest of her life. Make yourself a good example.

Tips & Warnings

  • Expect changes when your child gets to preschool. He or she will be exposed to the best- and worst-parented kids in the class. Let your child experiment with "adult" objects with careful supervision. I let my two-year-old daughter use my digital camera (she has quite a picture collection), play MP3s on my cell phone, and use my computer to play children's games and draw. One day I was putting a DVD into the player and she stopped me, saying "Upside down, Dada." She was right.

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