I’m going to start this by saying that plenty of people do not discipline as early as I do. Which is fine. I am a firm believer in doing what works for your family. I also believe that the level of discipline in your home is up to you and can be changed at any time, by just being clear about your expectations and consistent in your follow-through (and of course, always meaning what you say).
That said. I, personally, do not wish to have to physically restrain my young toddlers in order to be able to get them to, say, not pull everything out of the pantry while I’m cooking, or not run full speed into the parking lot.
Because one year olds are all:
But I’m like:
(’cause God says).
I personally know multiple families who pretty much can’t take their toddlers out of the house or leave them unsupervised at all because they will full-on run away at the park or climb into the dishwasher, but have absolutely lovely and well behaved school-aged children. It’s a parenting choice.
But *I* don’t personally want to live in fear of what they might be up to while I’m in the other room or be unable to go to Costco or the playground, let alone Europe, with my toddlers.
So . . . if you ever wondered if it was possible to get a one year old to do what you say using just your voice (and the force of your will), I’m here to say: yes it is.
And to tell you how I do it.
There is a point, and if you have multiple kids you probably know what I’m talking about, when babies go from having nothing but needs to all of a sudden also having preferences. The exact time when this happens varies from baby to baby but for most of mine it has been in the six to nine month range.
My babies need food and love and sleep and attention and eye contact and snuggles. So I give those things to them. My babies want to touch the TV and throw sand and take their diapers off. But I don’t let them.
And the ways I don’t let them are these:
1. I believe that they are capable of learning.
This is probably the biggest hurdle I faced at the beginning of my parenting journey. All I saw when I looked around were people distracting their toddlers (“Okay, give Mommy the Fabergé Egg, look here’s some candy!”) or lying to them (“No more egg, egg went night-night.”) or just giving up on them entirely (“Yeah, he breaks priceless stuff, what’re ya gonna do?”).
But my eldest was a real stinker in a lot of ways (also wonderful and a gift from God and all that, but a stinker). I knew he was smart and I had the distinct sense that he knew exactly what he was doing. And for goodness sakes, if this guy can get cats and owls and octopi and flies to do what he says then I figured I could leave that egg right where it was and just get my one year old to not touch it.
2. I am consistent and always mean what I say.
I start with “Not For Babies.” I say this a lot, and I ALWAYS mean it when I say it. I start saying it before the babies could really be willfully doing anything, but it teaches them what it means. So if baby has the remote or Great Aunt Gertrude’s cane, I say “not for babies” and take it away. Every single time. Even if he fusses about it.
I use “Not Food” in the same way. If baby has something she shouldn’t in her mouth, I say “not food” and take it away. Every single time. Even if she fusses about it.
In this way, they learn the concept that, despite their whims and desires, there is such a thing as something they may not do.
Then I move on to “No,” or more often a weird “ch-ch-ch-chhhh” sound I make, or their name, but in a sharper-than-usual tone.
Here’s how it goes at first . . .
Frankie: about to touch the TV
Me: FRANKIE! No, no don’t touch the TV, not for babies.
Frankie: pauses, maybe looks at me over his shoulder, touches the TV
But, eventually, and more quickly with some kids than with others, he will learn that I really do mean it. And if I told him he can’t touch it, he really can’t. So after that hand-extended pause, he puts his hand down and doesn’t touch the TV. Now maybe he turns and flings himself into the couch face-first in despair (we are still getting a good bit of that around here), but very, very often, almost always, he does NOT touch the TV.
Frankie is still less than two, and as much as his behavior and general attitude have kept me on my toes, he mostly doesn’t touch the TV. He also doesn’t run off at the park or go out the front door without a grownup or big kid with him, or rifle through the pantry. He DOES, however, stab one of his siblings in the arm with his fork at almost every dinner. He’s a work in progress.
But . . . how do we get from the touching the TV to the not touching the TV?
3. I calmly use age-appropriate consequences.
The important thing is to use consequences, and be consistent about them. It is less important which consequences you use, as long as you do use them and you are consistent.
The consequences I have had the most success with for 9 month to 2 year olds are: time outs in a crib or pack n’ play and (here’s where I make the internet mad again) spankings.
I have not had good luck with “normal” time outs, like sitting in a corner or in a time-out chair (at first). I find that young toddlers don’t always stay in them and that the situation can escalate, because now he needs to be reprimanded for the original offense, plus getting out of his time out. They do eventually learn this skill, and it’s important that they do, but until they understand the concept of discipline, I use a confined space.
Time outs in a crib or play pen avoid the escalation, plus allow mom a moment to calm down if she happens to be taking it personally that her one and a half year old just stuck his chubby little finger in each new little rectangle of eyeshadow.
Because here’s where the calm part comes in: toddlers mostly know that they shouldn’t be doing something (you can tell when you walk in on them and they jump or immediately burst into tears), but they really can’t tell the difference between something they shouldn’t be doing and something they REALLY shouldn’t be doing. So it doesn’t do much good to get especially upset, even if it was an especially bad thing.
I just gasp loudly (the gasping really seems to get their attention), and do an exaggerated knit-brow frown, act utterly shocked that such a good little boy as him would do such a naughty thing, say “No, no, not for babies. That is Mommy’s nice make-up. You mustn’t touch it. Not for babies.” Then dump him in the crib for a time out. And leave him there until he and I have both settled down, which is usually between five and ten minutes.
But what if we’re eating dinner, or at the park, or at a store, or in a parking lot? Time outs are inconvenient and impractical in those circumstances. Punishments that will happen sometime in the future are just not useful for kids less than two. But kids are known to disobey in all sorts of inconvenient places.
So, what I use to discourage bad behavior and disobedience, is spankings. Usually hand spankings, but occasional bottom spankings (at home) combined with a time out for older toddlers for bigger offenses.
I know this doesn’t feel right for many mothers, and I’m not telling you you must do this or your kids will never behave, but here’s why *I* do it: hand spanking is immediate and effective. I don’t have to yell at my child. Or resent him and his behavior. A baby who understands what he is doing, like looking right at me while throwing a handful of sand into the face of another kid at the playground, again, can also understand consequences. Especially if those consequences are immediate and unpleasant.
Physical discomfort is how God chose to discourage certain behaviors. It’s bad for me to burn myself or eat a whole pie, so God made it physically uncomfortable for me to do those things. So, I think it’s appropriate to use a similar technique for my children who are too young for other punishments to be effective.
I have found that it is much less traumatic to have a quick hand spanking over and done with than to attempt other, more drawn out punishments. Some things get an immediate punishment (like running into the street), but most things get a warning, “If you throw sand again, you’ll get a hand spanking.” In either case, I give him a hand spanking, and he bursts into tears and raises his hands to me to be picked up and comforted, which I do. I don’t have to stand over him glaring in a time out, or just give up and let him make me and other parents and children miserable.
It’s immediate and effective. It’s been, in my experience, completely non-traumatic, because it allows me to correct behavior in a non-emotional way and not hold grudges.
But again, that’s what works for me, and if something else works for you, you should do it.
I’m just here to say that, if you always had a sneaking feeling that you could get a one year old to do as he’s told, almost always, well, you probably can. I do. And I feel like it’s made eleven years of constant toddler-parenting a LOT more manageable.