A period of rapid brain development
While your child might have developed some understanding of cause-and-effect from around 3 to 6 months of age, before 1 year old, they are mostly observers. Now however, they are actively seeking out new patterns and curious to try out new actions to see what effects they could cause.
Now we cannot possibly comprehend every single nuance of what their little brains are trying to learn for every action they make, but what we can do is redirect their actions to more appropriate ones.
This may mean the difficult decision of interrupting say, meal time – but establishing “ground rules” for certain environments e.g. the dining table, will help the child understand where and when his or her “experiments” can be conducted.
- Allow them to satisfy their curiosity – give them the time to find out what it is they are so passionate about. It could be throwing the same ball a thousand times, but if they need it, let them do it. Thankfully, their attention span is still relatively short, so they can be led away (using your established routine method) without much fuss, most of the time.
If what they are doing is “unacceptable” (e.g. throwing food instead of throwing a toy), then stop the action firmly, remove the child from the situation and show the child what is acceptable (throw a ball, not the food). It may take some time; but creating this positive association for the child shows the child what is “correct”.
Repetition is key at this age, so you may need to repeat this association several times for a period of time, before the child understands it.
- Encourage your child to assert him or herself more during routine – e.g. let your child choose his or her clothes, shoes, etc. This satisfies your child’s growing need and impulse to control his or her environment.
- Be consistent – this is where cooperation and collaboration with caregivers is essential. Establishing a consistent response to bad behaviours, while approving of good behaviours, trains your child to choose to be well behaved. We talked about sharing the load of parenthood with caregivers in our very first podcast, listen to it here.
- Parent modelling – Speak to others the way you want them to speak to you. Parent modelling is the most powerful influence on a child’s life.
It is important to be firm and stand your ground; however, due to their heightened emotional outbursts at this age, it would be better to calm the child down, before addressing the issue. Most of the time, the child is already emotional because he or she already possesses some realisation that the action was incorrect.
The idea here is that what you have done is wrong, but mommy or daddy still love you.
With regards to what punishment works – well, we’ve read a ton of studies and many studies are inconclusive. Children are unique and respond to different punishments. What is certain however, is that beyond a certain point, a punishment can do more harm than good. So be controlled and purposeful in your punishments – do them not out of anger, but with a clear mind and intention. Punishment is your method of communicating to your child the action was inappropriate. It is not to cause trauma or make the child cry.
Be it the quiet corner (an isolated place where the child takes time to calm down), physical punishment, verbal reprimands or removal of privileges – it takes time to find out what works for your child; and even then, this may change as they grow and develop. However, together with our positive discipline methodologies, you would not find yourself resorting to these punishment methods often.