“My one year old is having tantrums. He/She cries if I take away a dangerous object.” Is this crying really a “tantrum”? No, it is not and let me explain why.
One year olds want to investigate everything. What happens if I touch this? Drop this? Squash this? It is developmentally normal for one year olds to explore, to want to know how things around them work.

They (mostly) do not have any concept of safety either; they don’t know that putting fingers in electric sockets is dangerous.

Naturally we don’t let them explore electric sockets. We stop them and just as naturally they cry. This crying is what most parents interpret as a tantrum. Only, it is not. They cry to communicate their displeasure at being removed from what looks like a harmless activity to them; they are not trying to ‘manipulate’ parents with crying.

One year olds do not have adequate verbal ability to communicate their thoughts nor do they know that the parent is acting to prevent harm. They simply know that they were doing something fun and suddenly they are not allowed to do it anymore.

One year olds also go and explore the socket again and again. This is normal. We should not expect them to “remember not to do this”.

So, what can parents do? Here are some tips on letting a one year old act on their innate drive to explore while keeping them safe (and hopefully us parents sane):

• Know that one year olds can never be left alone. They need an adult watching them all the time.

• Minimize the use of “NO”. Saying “NO” too much can lead to frustration as the toddler feels thwarted and the parent is left wondering why their toddler won’t listen. Toddlers do not have the ability to stop only on hearing the word “no”. Instead create a safe environment for them by baby proofing as much as possible.

• Keep safe objects at their level like old magazines, utensils and toys on low shelves for them to explore, tear and sort.

• Put away toys with small pieces that can be swallowed. Young one year olds need to put things in their mouths; it is normal. Do not try to stop the mouthing of safe objects; most toddlers will grow out of it naturally.

• Put sharp/fragile/dangerous objects, chemicals and medicines in places where toddler cannot reach (even when said toddler climbs a stool).

• Cover sockets with sticky tape or commercially available socket protectors.
• If the toddler touches a dangerous object, gently take it away each and every time; and explain in very few words why: “This is hot, it may burn” “this is sharp, it may cut you”. Do this over and over and over and that’s how toddlers will make the connection.

• Use positive statements; tell toddlers what they can do. Instead of “No, you cannot jump on the couch” say “I see you like jumping. Let’s go jump outside.”

• When the toddler cries, validate their emotions and provide acceptable choices. It is not a parent’s job to always keep toddlers happy. It is ok for toddlers to experience emotions like sadness, anger, jealousy etc. It is up to the parents to teach children how to react to them.

“Hold it! Blocks are not for throwing – even when you’re angry. Here, you can throw the pillow or the balloon.”
“Ouch, that hurt! I can’t let you hit me. But you can tell me what you feel. You can say, ‘I don’t want you to be with the baby now. I want you to be with me!’ ”
“The carpet is not for cutting. Let’s see, what can you cut? How about this paper? Or this cardboard? Which one? You decide.”
— Elaine Mazlish & Adele Faber (Authors of How to talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk)
Read that book, it changed how I communicated with my toddler.

• Distract the toddler with safe alternatives to dangerous objects or situations. Say spoons are for eating, how about we throw your soft ball instead. Expect them to cry and empathize with them while distracting.

• Teach the toddler to use sign language to communicate.

• Pick your battles. Is it really going to matter in the long run if baby is tearing old newspaper? Or if they explore your utensil drawer every day? Let it go; having toddlers around means your house is going to be messy.

• Above all take a deep breath and know that parenting a one year old is hard. This phase will pass. Till then,

Happy Parenting,

1. Temper tantrums. (PMID:1858612). Leung AK, Fagan JE. American Family Physician [1991, 44(2):559-563]
2. http://main.zerotothree.org/site/DocServer/brain_wonders_-_12_to_18_months.pdf?docID=10224

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