Disciplining a 1-year-old

I’m struggling right now with utilizing discipline on my 16-month-old.  Little Miss very much enjoys getting into closets she’s not supposed to enter (due to there being some very breakable items inside), dropping food on the floor over and over again from her highchair, and slipping behind the rocking chair to play behind the end table in the living room, which she knows will get our attention.

It’s not that we don’t pay attention to her.  It’s not that all we do is tell her “no.”  It’s not even that she’s a bad kid.  She is just…a kid.  It’s natural for them to be curious: Is this still something Mommy and Daddy don’t want me to do?  Do things still fall to the ground every time I drop them? And it’s natural for them to, in the process of acting on their curiosity, get into things and places they shouldn’t.

While I understand that fact, I also understand that if we as parents simply allow Little Miss to do whatever it is she’d like to do, teaching her later that those things aren’t acceptable will be an even bigger battle than they are now.

I also understand that while my daughter knows certain activities are off-limits (playing in the dog’s water bowl, going near the wood-burning stove, banging on the French door glass with her toys, etc.), she still enjoys doing them.  And this is where the discipline issue comes in.

I have tried all sorts of things, and while smacking her hand when she drops food on the floor or plays in the dog’s dishes worked the first time due to the surprise factor, my independent Little Miss took virtually no notice of it the subsequent times.  A firm “NO!” was shocking the first time, but there are two drawbacks to this method: 1) Little Miss often thinks it’s funny when I look her in the eye and firmly tell her “no;” 2) Our dog thinks we’re telling HER “no” and she runs to the corner with her tail between her legs.  Removing her from the situation and plopping her in the middle of the floor far away from the off-limits distraction worked for a while, until she got mobile enough to simply jump up and run right back.  Telling her to “stop” gets her attention, but then she knows that if she just continues doing it, Mommy or Daddy will come over to her and then it’s a game.

My frustration with this process has mounted lately and I found myself at my wit’s end (and with a painful back from hauling Little Miss out from behind the rocking chair half a dozen times in a two-minute period).  I’m also trying very hard to squelch the nagging You’re terrible at this parenting thing! voice in the back of my mind due to all of this.

An article on babycenter.com really enlightened me on the idea of a “time-out” for young children, a concept I fully support but have never really had to implement.  According to this article, my Little Miss is probably too young to understand the concept of a real  time-out, and I agree.  However, there are alternate forms of the traditional time-out (3 or so minutes in a chair to “refocus” and think about consequences) that my 1-year-old can handle that accomplish the same thing.  For example, Mommy or Daddy taking the time-out with her and doing a quiet activity such as reading a book.  (Read the article for more helpful information.)

While I still cannot claim any expertise on the art of disciplining toddlers, reading the above article and talking to other mothers has helped me feel a bit better about my apparently “failed” tactics so far.  The main thing I’ve heard both in my conversations with experienced moms and my reading of various articles and books and blogs is that the key is CONSISTENCY.  My daughter is still learning about how the world works, and that includes how serious Mommy and Daddy are about the things they enforce.  That just means that I can’t give in, let up or get mad.  She needs to know that she will get the same reaction each time she does something, and I need to make sure that as she grows, my discipline tactics change to match her level of maturity and understanding.

No one said parenting would be easy…regardless of how much so I thought it would be when I imagined it as a young girl.

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