Training the Will of a One Year Old

Now that our fourth child is just over a year old and toddling around on his two fat wobbly legs which carry him to investigate whatever interests him in the moment, I am finding myself back in the throes of training once again.

Just to name a few things that have been of interest to him...
- tasting and carrying away the wet dirty utensils being loaded in the dishwasher
- taking out and carrying tupperware and plastic cups/dishes to all the vast ends of his little toddler world
- pulling out clothes from the laundry basket and making piles
- grabbing ashes from the fireplace and smothering it all over the floor
- pulling out book after book from the bookshelf and ripping whatever his fat little fingers can manage to grab and pull
- pulling out freshly planted summer plants and throwing them all over
- finding siblings' sticks, play swords, the broom, etc. and flailing it around whacking family members while giggling adorably.
- pulling out boxes of cereal and dumping them
- digging through the garbage and eating whatever tasty items he finds
- sloshing Daddy's socks in the toilet
- throwing cups, plates and food on the floor during mealtime

Add to that some of the common dangers...
- pulling the cat's tail, patting (smacking!) the kitty on the head
- running out the front door when the door is accidentally left open
- climbing stairs - electrical outlets
- choking on something he puts in his mouth

 It's no wonder people ask me what I do with the little ones while homeschooling!

We do what we can right? Wear them in the carrier, contain them in the playpen, offer them interesting things to keep them occupied, feed them finger foods in the high chair... but children are born persons - they want to explore and experience all that life has in store for them.  And eventually, they have to learn to become a part of the ordered life in our home - for us, the sooner the better. By the time our kids were around a year old and starting to walk, they were already causing havoc in our home.

I do have friends who believe children will grow into people who respect things and homes and dangers, that it has more to do with age than training and that they simply aren't capable until they're "older". So they equip their homes with every safety gate, level, handle, gadget on the market to manage them through this "phase" and mold their homes and their entire lives around their toddling little tyrant.

But if children are born persons and habits are the ruts that our lives run in, then the rut a one year old carves for himself today will be the one he runs in tomorrow *unless* we invest great strain of effort to carve a new rut for him in the future.

It's a sobering thought don't you think?

As a new homeschooler you are entering a whole new exciting world with your children and there is much to learn about educational styles, methods, curriculum, schedules, connecting with others, etc.

But please, PLEASE don't miss this one point Charlotte Mason makes, it can make or break your homeschooling days no matter how good the rest is:

The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days... ~Charlotte Mason, Vol.1, p.136

When at eight months old my son starts grabbing the glass in front of him on the table - my initial reaction is to move it away and give him something else to play with, which he does... for a moment, but then he goes right back to the glass. So I can conform the world to him or begin training his will.

Conforming the world to him, if we play this out to its true end, means that anytime he is at a table - at home, a friend's, a restaurant or anywhere else, I will have to clear the table in front of him of all things as a form of damage control. What has the child learned?

On the other hand, training his will means that we don't move the glass, instead we teach him he is not to touch it. Think of it, where did God place the tree in the garden? There is no training of the will without temptation and the required effort to resist ourselves from it.

In our home that begins by me holding the glass and removing his hand from it saying "No touch" in a calm voice. Then I let go of the glass until he tries again and I repeat the process, this time giving his hand a swat with my hand that is strong enough to get his attention and gentle enough that it doesn't really hurt, then I remove his hand again. He is naturally offended and cries, when he comes back to touch it again, I repeat the process, swatting a little stronger to make my point without really hurting him in any way, saying "No touch" calmly again. If he still tries to touch after three or four times I move him from the table and distract him to something else until the next time he encounters the same glass again. I may keep the glass there for him to see it the next time he sits down to see what he does.

I know some parents will not swat and I am not claiming this is the only way to train a child. This is what works in our home and what we choose for our family.

I prefer to train the kids at home - I dislike my kids fussing a whole lot in public so I may go out of my way to avoid the conflict at a restaurant, but set him in front of the glass again at home to continue giving him opportunities to resist his desire to touch it.

At eight months, my son learned not to touch (not perfectly, but well enough) in about a week of consistent training. When I see my son stop himself from touching something in response to me saying "No touch," I praise his efforts. In the future, when he ignores my request not to touch, I repeat the process again, now managing a habit that is in place.

I think it's important to keep in mind at this time that he's not doing anything naughty by wanting to touch the glass, that's part of his natural curiosity. He is being naughty when he knows I don't want him to touch it and then goes for it. That's why I think it's important to ask him not to touch it first before swatting. I also think it's important to give them opportunities to touch a lot of different things in addition to training him. Plastic toys are not that interesting, they really aren't. Water, dirt, sand, wood, grass, shape, texture, etc. give them the exploration they crave to make it easier to resist the glass.

Using this same process, my now one year old son has learned not to touch our dishes, the plants outside, the tools and yarn on the floor in the corner, the lizard, the keyboard, the electrical outlets, not to put legos and toys in his mouth, not to climb chairs, pull out books, etc. That's not to say he'll never try again and that I don't need to watch him - he will, but now I only need maintain a habit that is already in place. In fact, he will go to touch or open something he shouldn't now and look at me and say "uh uh?" as if asking if he can. He is willing himself not to touch something and looking for my permission knowing I've asked him not to touch it.

Starting this training at two or three years old when they are already in a bad habit of getting their way is a whole different situation. Now you're talking about carving new tracks out of bad ones, which is very, very possible, I think it just means that you're going to have a lot of resistance to overcome initially, and you're going to have to *calmly* persist for much longer before you find them controlling their will.

Sitting in my lap is another habit I think is good to train. Whether at church or in a waiting room or at a friend's house or while reading a book with the kids at home, it's helpful for my child to be able to sit on my lap for a time. So when we have some time at home, I sit him on my lap and give him something to play with in his hands. Within a minute, he's thrown it on the floor and is trying to slide down. My initial reaction is to want to let him down to avoid the fuss, but just by saying "No, sit." calmly and keeping him there, he eventually learns to sit. He'll fuss and twist and arch back and try to slide down again and again and he may even get a really good cry going, but after a short while he settles down and learns to sit. No swatting needed, just keeping him in my lap makes the point well enough.Sometimes a distraction like "Is that a bird? Did you hear a bird?" or "Who is that outside? Do you hear something?" will quickly distract him from his fussing for a time also and gives him the needed break to help calm his rebellion. Once he's calmed down, I will keep him there for a couple of minutes and then let him go so he learns he gets what he wants when he is calm. Again, I have many more opportunities to take up the training again so I'm happy to let him go after a short while and then keep him longer with time.    

Two other habits that I think are helpful to train once they start walking are "Stop" and "Come to mommy" for obvious reasons. Investing the time to establish these kinds of habits early on in a calm way really has paved the road for us to be able to do school while the baby toddles around and plays. It also sets the stage for good future habits since they are already gaining control of their will at a young age. The one year old who learns not to touch has less effort to become the two year old who learns to control their screaming and the three year old who learns to control their attitude because they are building on their past efforts.    

There are many other things that a child of one can learn. We put something to our nose and sniff in and out loudly so he knows it is something to smell - spices in the pantry, the rose in the garden, the sage on the hike, Daddy's pillow, fresh fruit, lotions, clean hair, cut grass, etc.

With our hands we can focus their attention on a bird in flight, the sway of a tree in the wind while blowing gently on his cheek, a noise we hear by pointing to our ear and cocking our head.

The Kindergarten 'Occupations' afford opportunities for training in this kind of faithfulness; but in the home a thousand such opportunities occur; if only in such trifles as the straightening of a tablecloth or of a picture, the hanging of a towel, the packing of a parcel––every thoughtful mother invents a thousand ways of training in her child a just eye and a faithful hand.~Vol. 1, p.180

Another great habit to cultivate is a settled temper in the home. It is the running around and constant activity of children that causes many adults to want to escape and what causes many friends to stop inviting families over to their home. I am all for jumping around having a great time, but our kids should also be able to be settled in the home without TV, without being entertained. They should be able to find something to do with the simple things around the home. As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to my kids, boredom is the mother of all kinds of invention. When they come to me in anguish that they have nothing to do, I am always elated to see them because I just so happen to have some sweeping, scrubbing, and cleaning needing to be done ;-)
Once more, the Kindergarten professes to take account of the joyousness of the child's nature: to allow him full and free expression for the glee that is in him, without the 'rampaging' which follows if he is left to himself to find an outlet for his exuberant life. This union of joy and gentleness is the very temper to be cultivated in the nursery. The boisterous behaviour sometimes allowed in children is unnecessary––within doors, at any rate: but even a momentary absence of sunshine on the faces of her children will be a graver cause of uneasiness to the mother. On the whole, we may say that some of the principles which should govern Kindergarten training are precisely those in which every thoughtful mother endeavours to bring up her family; while the practices of the Kindergarten, being only ways, amongst others, of carrying out these principles, and being apt to become stereotyped and wooden, are unnecessary, but may be adopted so far as they fit in conveniently with the mother's general scheme for the education of her family. ~Vol.1, p.181
Good habits open the door to manageable homeschool days, a liveable home, and best of all, the ability to enjoy your kids more often than not :)


  1. This is a bold post and I appreciate it. If parents could only believe how habit training from a very young age makes for a peaceful and delightful child/parent atmosphere or "smooth and easy" days from the very beginning of childhood...

    "Conforming the world to him, if we play this out to its true end, means that anytime he is at a table - at home, a friend's, a restaurant or anywhere else, I will have to clear the table in front of him of all things as a form of damage control. What has the child learned?"

  2. I also appreciate this post, but will defend my safety gate around my woodstove! In a busy household of 3 boys and 1 girl, all it takes is a random bump and someone would end up very hurt.


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