Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Your one-year-old seems so young that you may be unwilling to tell him off when he misbehaves.
He’s just a baby, you tell yourself, and can’t possibly understand the concept of right and wrong.
But that’s a mistake. Your young child is smarter than you give him credit for.
He understands clearly what you mean when you tell him “no”, even if he can’t say the word himself. He already has begun to have a sense of rules.
Of course, he’s very determined to get his own way and hates being told what to do.
That’s why he may try to ignore your comment and do what he wants anyway.
You may find that if you don’t introduce discipline at this age, your days together will become increasingly chaotic and confrontational.
He also needs to understand limits for his own safety, especially now that he is much more active.
As soon as he can move around independently, he’ll start to explore places he couldn’t reach before, such as the top of the stairs or the inside of your kitchen cupboards. This means he’s exposed to more risks.
You need to protect him from everyday hazards, with rules about what he can and can’t do, and where he can and can’t explore.
Then there’s the social dimension. If he runs around thoughtlessly at the parent-and-toddler playgroups and does what he wants without any consideration for others, he’ll rapidly become unpopular and isolated from his peers.
Learning to take his friends’ feelings into account is part of discipline. This is a good time to start encouraging hia awareness of others.
For all these reasons, your little one is ready to start learning discipline.
Before you do anything, however, think about the standards of behaviour you want him to follow. Don’t expect too much from him.
Select very basic discipline techniques to start with, such as no hitting, biting and throwing. Then make up your mind to stick to these.
In addition, be prepared to be flexible with discipline. Most rules can be bent or broken sometimes, depending on the circumstances.
There may be times when you allow an exception to the usual standards of behaviour (for example, an extra snack in the afternoon to give your toddler a treat).
The best way to encourage him to follow rules is by explaining them. Whenever you stop him from doing something, tell him why he shouldn’t behave that way.
Keep your explanations very short and simple (“You mustn’t touch because it will hurt you” or “I’ll be angry if you do that”).
By all means, use some form of mild punishment when he does break the rules (which he inevitably will), but resist the temptation to use smacking.
Physical chastisement doesn’t work – it’s likely to make him aggressive, and it makes you feel miserable afterwards.
Instead, use non-physical punishments such as withdrawing sweets, not allowing him to play with his favourite toy for a while, or even just giving him an angry look.
Most important of all, reward your tot when he obeys.
He adores your approval and his face will beam whenever you praise him. So when you notice that he has behaved well, let him see that you’re delighted with him. Give him a big cuddle.
If you do this often enough, he’ll soon prefer to follow rules rather than break them.