How To Discipline 1 Year Old?

It can be difficult to know when to start disciplining your child. It depends on what you understand the word ‘discipline’ to mean. It is often associated with punishment for bad behavior which may seem excessive for a child who is only one year old.

But people who follow the method of natural parenting- a fairly relaxed approach which is focused on love and patience – see discipline as teaching. So how do you discipline a 1 year old?

Your child can begin learning from any age, so in fact it is never too early to start disciplining your child. 

Even at the age of one, children can start displaying undesirable behaviors as they start to learn more about themselves and test boundaries. It can be difficult to know how to discipline and teach a child who is so young. We have put together this useful guide to help you. 

Why Do 1 Year Olds Display Undesirable Behavior?

If you are a parent then you have probably witnessed a toddler tantrum. But before you attempt to discipline your child it is important to understand why these tantrums happen.

There tends to be four main reasons why one year olds will misbehave or have a tantrum. They could be hungry, lonely, tired, or angry. 

They are too young to express themselves clearly and communicate what is wrong, so you need to consider all of these things to establish what your child’s needs are. 

How To Discipline 1 Year Old

Stay Calm 

Your child starts to learn from you as soon as they are born. They watch, listen, mimic, copy, and slowly begin to understand more about the world around them and about human interaction. If you get angry when they have a tantrum, then you are setting a poor example.

You should try to stay calm, and as they grow up your 1 year old will understand that you don’t need to lose your temper to be understood or to get the outcome that you are looking for.

It also helps children to feel safe and secure if you are able to stay level headed, and if they can find comfort in you they are less likely to lash out and prolong the tantrum. 

Consistency In How To Discipline A 1 Year Old

Whilst children that are only 1 year old are able to learn, it can be a slow and repetitive process as they have limited skills in comprehending and retaining information. That is why it is important to be consistent when you discipline your 1 year old.

When it comes to setting boundaries, make sure you stick to them. If your child is not allowed to do something then you need to say no every time. You need to be consistent with how to discipline your 1 year old.

If you let them do it on one occasion because you think it will make your day easier, this will blur the lines and it will be unclear to the child what is expected of them. This makes undesirable behavior more likely and could make them feel confused and unsafe. 

Children feel more safe when they know that the parent is in charge and they have clear boundaries, even if that means they throw a few tantrums in response to being told ‘no’. 

Positive Reinforcement 

If your 1 year old does something wrong and you discipline them by telling them ‘no’, you should then demonstrate the right thing for them to do. Once they have a go at doing this themselves, give them praise. 

This is a very simple but effective way to discipline and teach them as you are offering them an alternative and giving them positive attention rather than leaving them feeling frustrated and confused. 

For example, if your 1 year old is being a bit rough with the family cat and pulls its fur you say ‘no’, then demonstrate the right way to pet a cat. Say ‘be gentle, like this’, and gently stroke the cat.

You could take the child’s hand and smooth it gently over the cat, or let them have a go themselves. Then praise them for doing the right thing. 


Sometimes it is more suitable to redirect your child away from bad behavior than to discipline them. You should still make it clear that their behavior is unwanted by saying ‘no’, but then engage them in a different activity. 

For example, if your child is throwing things and being destructive, tell them no, then bring their attention to a different activity like drawing or playing with a teddy.

Once they settle into this activity then give them praise. This will further reinforce the correct way for them to behave. 

Avoid Emotional Punishment 

As mentioned earlier you should not shout at your children or become angry in order to discipline them as this sets a bad example. But you should also avoid withdrawing affection as a punishment. 

This is very unsettling for the child and will make your 1 year old feel unsafe and insecure.

This will not only damage their confidence, but it could cause further behavioral issues by prompting them to seek negative attention because they feel deprived.

Even if your child has made a mistake they deserve to feel loved and accepted, and this kind of nurturing environment is much better for their development than emotional discipline.

Reasoning With Your 1 Year Old

You might think that your child is too young to understand the effect that their behavior has on other people, but the sooner you start to teach them the sooner they will understand.

For example, if your 1 year old is hitting you and you tell them ‘no’, you should explain why it is wrong to hit other people. 

They might not understand it right away, but with a patient and consistent approach to discipline they will get there. It also encourages independent thought and self-regulation of behavior which are very important to your 1 year old’s development. 

Final Thoughts

Remember that your 1 year old is only very young and they might not get things right straight away or all of the time, but this doesn’t mean that they are not trying.

If you are struggling with how to discipline your 1 year old, it is important to praise their efforts rather than just the results, or your child could end up feeling frustrated and upset which will lead to displays of bad behavior and undermine their progress. 

Joyce Bailey
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