5 Reasons Toddlers Don’t Need ‘Redirection’ (And What To Do Instead)

Redirection is a popular tactic for dealing with a toddler’s undesirable behavior. Its appeal is understandable, because it’s about aiming a child to another activity rather than confronting an issue directly and setting a limit. It helps us dodge the bullet of our child’s resistance, which might include anger, tears or a total meltdown (and we’re all eager to avoid those things, especially in public).

Apparently, redirection often works — at least momentarily — and I can appreciate that it allows mom, dad or caregiver to remain the good guy. I love being the good guy! Instead of saying, “I won’t let you draw on the sofa. Here’s some paper if you want to draw,” it’s easier and less likely to cause friction if I ask enthusiastically, “Can you draw me a silly face on this piece of paper?” So, I may save my sofa in the nick of time, but my child has no idea drawing on it is not okay, and may very well try it again. Well, at least there are no tears — I’m still the good guy! And right there is the first problem I have with redirection…

1) Phoniness. I don’t like acting perky and upbeat when I’m really a little annoyed. Besides making me feel like a big phony, I don’t think it’s good modeling or healthy for my relationship with my children. As uncomfortable as it is to face the music (or markers on the sofa), I believe children deserve (and need) an honest response. No, we shouldn’t react angrily if we can possibly help it, but we don’t have to perform or be inauthentic either. Staying calm, giving a simple correction and a real choice (like, you can draw on paper or find something else to do) is all that’s needed.

Yes, the child may get upset — he has a right to his conflicting opinion and his feelings. It’s good for him to vent and for us to acknowledge, “You really wanted to draw on the sofa and I wouldn’t let you.” Children are capable of experiencing these kinds of safe, age-appropriate conflicts. Which reminds me of my second objection to redirection….

2) Wastes opportunities to learn from conflict. Our children need practice handling safe disagreements with us and with peers. When our infant or toddler is struggling with a peer over a toy and we immediately suggest, “Oh, look at this cool toy over here…,” we rob him of a valuable opportunity to learn how to manage conflicts himself. Directing our child to another identical toy, if there is one, might be helpful if children seem really stuck, but even then the infant or young toddler usually wants the one that has “heat” in another child’s hands. Often the children are far more interested in understanding the struggle than they are in the particular toy. But whatever their focus, young children need time and our confidence in them to learn to resolve conflicts rather than avoiding them.

3) No guidance. What does a child learn when we direct him to draw a silly face rather than just telling him we can’t let him draw on the sofa? Infants and toddlers need us to help them understand the house rules, and eventually internalize our expectations and values. Redirection distracts children during a teachable moment instead of helping them benefit from it.

4) Underestimates and discourages attention and awareness. Redirecting a child means asking him to switch gears and forget what has taken place. Is this lack of awareness something to encourage? An article I read recently on the subject (“Understanding Children”) suggests, “Since young children’s attention spans are so short, distraction is often effective.”

Even if I agreed about children having short attention spans, which I don’t (see video), distracting them from what they are engaged in seems a sure fire way to make them even shorter.

On the other hand, children who aren’t used to redirection don’t buy it. They can’t be fooled, coaxed or lured away from marking up the sofa (unfortunately!). Encouraged to be fully present and aware, they need a straight answer, and they deserve one.

An aware child may be less convenient sometimes (when we can’t trick him with sleight of hand, “Oops, the cell phone disappeared, here’s a fun rattle instead!”), but awareness and attentiveness are essential to learning and will serve him well throughout his life.

5) Respect. Redirecting is cajoling, distraction and trickery that underestimates a toddler’s intelligence — his ability to learn and comprehend. Toddlers deserve the same respect we would give an adult, rather than this (from a website about parenting toddlers):

Distract and divert. The best form of toddler discipline is redirection. First, you have to distract them from their original intention and then, quickly divert them toward a safer alternative. Give them something else to do for example, helping with the household chores and soon they will be enjoying themselves rather than investing a lot of emotional energy into the original plan.

How distraction can be construed as ‘discipline’ is beyond me, but more importantly –would you distract an adult in the middle of a disagreement and direct her to mop up the floor? Then why treat a younger person like a fool? I believe that we can trust babies to choose where to invest their emotional energy. Only babies know what they are working on and figuring out.

Here are some alternative responses that not only work, they feel respectful and authentic:

Breathe first… unless there is a marker making contact with our sofa or a fist making contact with our toddler’s buddy’s head, in which case we quickly take hold of the hands and/or markers as gently as possible. But then — we breathe.

Remain calm, kind, empathetic, but firm. In the case of a peer conflict, narrate the situation objectively without assigning blame or guilt. Infant expert Magda Gerber called this ‘sportscasting’. “Jake and John are both trying to hold onto the truck. It’s tough when you both want to use the same thing… You’re really having a hard time…” Allow the struggle, but don’t let the children hurt each other. “I see you’re frustrated, but I won’t let you hit.”

Acknowledge feelings and point of view. When it’s over, acknowledge, “Jake has the truck now. John, you wanted it. You’re upset. When Jake’s done you’ll be able to use it. Maybe there’s something else you’d like to use.”

Be fully available to respond with comfort if the child wants it.

After our response to a behavior like drawing on the sofa, and after we’ve allowed the child to cry, argue, or move on as he chooses, while offering empathy and comfort, we can acknowledge his point of view. “You thought the sofa needed decorating, but I said no.”

Recognize achievement and encourage curiosity. The use of distraction as redirection reflects our natural tendency to want to put an immediate end to a child’s undesirable behavior. And in our haste it’s easy to forget to recognize and encourage positives in the situation – positives like inventiveness, achievement, curiosity. When the situation isn’t an emergency, we can take a moment to acknowledge: “Wow, you reached all the way up to the counter and picked up my sunglasses!”

Then we can allow the child to examine the sunglasses while we hold them. If he tries to take them out of our hands, we might say, “You can look at these and touch them, but I won’t let you take them.” Then, if that turns into a struggle, we might say finally, “You really want to hold these yourself and I can’t let you. I’m going to put them away in the desk.”

Dealing with these situations openly, with patience, empathy and honesty — braving a child’s tears and accepting temporary ‘bad guy’ status — is the path to a loving relationship, trust and respect. This, believe it or not, is real quality time.

So, what do you think about redirection?


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Good article but I think it is age and situation dependent – I think redirection and even distraction is still best for say a super active 14-18 month old or younger (mine was walking at 10 months and climbing up onto the dining table and running along it by 12 months) – at that age they just don’t have the capacity to really learn and have impulse control etc – and all you are going to do is set up an adversary situation from a young age.

    Much better at that younger age to focus on creating a really strong bond and just keeping them safe.

    By the time they are two and a half or old depending on the child the technique in the article is a much better option!! :))

    1. Thank you, Belinda. This is interesting because I strongly believe that “creating a really strong bond” happens through a respectful, honest relationship, especially when that respect begins at birth. I think it’s much harder for a parent who has gone down the road of distracting and tricking to suddenly switch gears and start interacting with their child in a person to person manner. If you are able to distract, you are not seeing the whole person in your child. By two years of age, we have already chosen the path of respect or one that veers toward manipulation.

      1. I am a new parent. 25yo daddy and my little boy is 15mo. I am having trouble drawing the line between “being honest and respectful” and being overly honest. Is telling your toddler there is a Santa Clause considered “manipulation”?

        1. My family did not celibrate Christmas and my parents were honest with us. Frankly I always appreciated it. I had lots of friends however who were very upset over being lied to and had trust issues with their parents and other people in charge because of it. I thought it was over reacting, but I WASN’T lied to.. so what do I know about how others feel. I know that I am glad I wasn’t lied to. I very much valued being told the truth when I was little and I still do

        2. We do Santa at our house, but in a different way. I don’t want my kids to feel disappointed or lied to when they find out Santa isn’t real, so I tell my kids Santa is not real but we PRETEND that he is real. Once they know the truth, it’s still fun to pretend. Then we all try to hide our presents to each other under the tree without the recipient seeing us do it. If we can get it under there secretly, “Santa” left it! It’s super fun make-believe and the kids still get the magic of Santa at Christmas.

        3. We play “the santa game” meaning we go through some of the motions of what the other kids do, but knowing it is just a game. I don’t like the idea of lying to my kids and then someday they realize its not true and feel just terrible, and Christmas is never the same for them again. something would always be missing. that is I how felt when I realized it as a child. And I don’t want my kids loving Santa more than the Lord which sounds silly but seriously they cant help it. So my kids know we give them presents but that its fun to play the santa game and set out cookies etc. I also tell them they are never allowed to tell other kids santa isn’t real.

      2. Totally agree Janet. All about treating babies as the humans they are from the beginning. Although they may not be able to verbalize in English they sure do pick up on everything we say and do.. Am so glad I did this from an early age. It makes explaining things that I don’t want her to do so much easier as I did it from the start.
        So, thanks Janet:-) xxx

    2. I disagree with you. My super active 11 mo. old (now 3 year old) learned that he had to ask before he climbed the stairs. He didn’t have the words to as, so he leanred to look at me and hit the bottom step. My active 10 month old is in the process of learning the same thing. It tells me that our infants have both the capacity to learn what we expect of them, and often the impulse control to follow through. Obviously the impulse control is not going to be perfect, especially at first. What we often fail to recognize is that impulse control is a skill, not an inborn trait. My sons desperately want to climb the stairs. But they know, that the fastest way to get up the stairs is to wait until I will allow them to go up. It required some conflict, but it also means that they don’t climb any stairs they find. Safer babies, happy mommy.

      1. Wow, distraction has been my instinctive ‘go-to’ forEVER! 30 years ago as a (very!) young mum to my with my extremely active wilful wild son… and now, as guardian/ foster mum to his slightly less active and wild (but just as wilful!) daughter.
        She’s been with me since 2 1/2 – is now 4, and I am just embracing your beautiful teachings…
        Like I said, distraction is practically instinctive for me – I have to be sooo present and disciplined to not automatically go there..
        It was extremely effective in avoiding behaviours I was Ill equip to deal with as a young mother a long time ago, but now I can see how much more honest, respectful and – in the long run – effective, your methods are.
        Thank you!

    3. They absolutely have the capacity to learn at that age. Children are learning from birth. The longer you let behavior go the harder it will be to eliminate the bad behavior. Using positive reinforcement kids can learn what to do and what not to do, even at 10-12 months.

    4. I loved the article & it gave me a new perspective but I agree entirely with Belinda! I can’t see myself trying to explain to my 6 month old when its beyond he’s comprehansion- not necessarily using something ‘phoney’ just a simple exchange of items would suffice in most situations. Or when out if my child has a tantrum to save his & our embarrassment I would choice to leave the wordy explanations for another time if his cognitive development has not yet reached that stage of reasoning. I do think there’s a mid ground for dealing with younger children. Great article though will definitely be more direct I was intending!

      1. I don’t understand why you are on a RIE website then as you are missing the fundamental philosophy here.

        1. Eleanor:
          They’re robably here because they’re trying to learn something new, and possibly, if they find it to be valuable, expand their capacity for understanding and thought.
          Would you ask a child “why are you here, when you clearly don’t agree with idea A, B, or C?”? Don’t be hypocritical–extend the same respect to an adult that you claim you do to children, and give them them the opportunity to learn.

    5. Not true, I have spent the past five years working with infants and toddlers, ages 7 weeks to 1.5 years. The tactic in this article works. Infants don’t get a lot of credit, they understand so much more that people think. Our actions speak volumes. When we talk things through with them, they absolutely have a grasp on what’s happening. They understand limits like “Look but don’t touch” or “Please be gentle” and “You need to wait” and they understand better ways to communicate like with signs or special words like More and Please. It takes patience and practice but they learn so quickly and there is absolutely no need to wait until they’re two. Honestly waiting that long will probably cause more harm. They will not have learned anything by then, just that you will let them have and do anything.

  2. avatar Mary Linton says:

    Hi Janet,

    Your article provides thought-provoking clarification of the term “redirection”. In my mind, redirection meant stopping the behavior, stating the rule “i.e. we draw on paper, not the couch”, and offering an alternative. I hadn’t thought of pushing my toddler into a different activity without telling her why I wouldn’t let her do what she was doing in the first place. But then, I must be missing what many people meant by “redirection”.

    Is offering an alternative a questionable practice? Am I doing too much thinking for my child, when I could be letting her decide on her own what to do next? Just thinking aloud here.

    Also, regarding peer disputes–in the example where Jake gets the truck and John doesn’t, do you think it is ever wise to intervene in the dispute? For example, if John was playing with the truck and Jake snatched it away, would you let that be? What if it was a pattern between those children that always seemed to play out the same way? I have been interfering in my toddler’s disputes if it seems like the aggressor is winning, to state a “we don’t snatch toys away, wait your turn” rule, but I’m open to rethinking this if you can convince me that letting them sort it out, regardless of who wins, is better.



    1. Mary, your instincts sound wonderful to me. Yes, your version of “redirection” is one that I advise. For many, the term seems to be synonymous with “distraction”.
      In regard to offering an alternative, I think that’s a subtle judgment call. If it’s about where to draw, I definitely would offer that solution. If it’s about what activity to do instead of a forbidden one, I would probably leave that up to the child to decide. (I admit I’m a stickler for child initiated play and problem solving as much as possible.)

      Regarding the peer disputes, your judgment sounds good to me (again), especially if it is a pattern of behavior.

    2. i am with you. I work in early childhood and that was my impression of redirection too.
      Distraction is quite different from redirection imo. 🙂

      1. Yes, I was confused by the article when it was describing “redirection” as distraction and “what to do instead” was my perception of what limit setting and redirection is.

    3. Thank you for articulating precisely what I was thinking. I also must be operating with a different definition of ‘redirection’ than most because I, too, agreed with Janet’s course of interaction but have always considered it ‘redirection.’

      A thought about offering alternatives – some people find (seemingly) endless amounts of choices overwhelming. I certainly do and expect my 22 month old son does, too, not having nearly the experience figuring out how he wants to sort through choices yet. When I offer alternatives to him, I usually give him 2 or 3 options and let him make the final decision – all alternatives are completely acceptable to me and I want to give him practice making his own choices. I feel this models a couple things: how to narrow down choices, that there is often more than 1 acceptable option, that I want him to make his own final decision, and that I will respect his choice. As he gets to the point where he can communicate even more than he already is, I plan to amend this practice to offer him the opporunity to suggest his own alternative(s). Just my two cents.

    4. I don’t particularly like speaking to the agressor. It seems like it makes sense, but to me, it really doesn’t. The agressor gets the attention, and the other child doesn’t really learn much. The first time, I usually let my children handle it. If it’s a pattern, I address the child who is being bullied. (For the lack of a better term.) We talk about the words he can say to stand up for himself. Early on, we worked on the words. “I don’t like that.” And “Give it back please.” I also let my children know that they can ALWAYS come get me. If they ask for my help I will absolutely give it. (Although, sometimes that will mean helping them figure out solutions.)

      1. Amy has given good tools on hoping toddlers deal with conflict and everyone learn from it. Thank you for those thoughts! I am hopeful they are helpful with my 2 & 4 year olds. Sherra

    5. Ah, yes this was my interpretation of “redirection” as well – setting a limit and then offering an alternative or two.

      After thinking about it, I suppose that my current definition of redirection is one that’s evolved over time as my parenting has evolved. I’m pretty sure I’m more respectuful of my third child as a toddler than I was with my first. I think some of that has come with having older children and gaining new habits about how I interact with kids in general, then that interaction style has become the default even for my youngest, not just older kids.

    6. Agree, my use of redirection is setting clear limits, then offering alternatives, then if child refuses, proceed to consequences for violation, like time out, or losing use of the toy being abused. Your idea of “conflict” sounds like parents encouraging kids to bring it on in a fight. This is NOT productive, in both my experience, and in the opinion of brilliant psychiatrist Rudolf Dreikurs, author of one of my favorite books, “Children, the Challenge”. His theory is that a child is motivated by one of four “mistaken goals”: undue attention, power, revenge or avoidance. In my observation, from many years as a professional childcare provider and educator, redirecting, or “avoiding” conflicts IS usually the best resolution of conflict for a toddler or preschool age child. Getting into a battle of the wills with mommy gives the child “undue attention”, basically, giving him the attention he wants for inappropriate behavior.
      Your whole article seems based on a deep misunderstanding of the appropriate use of “redirection”, confusing it with the lazy parenting technique of distraction. Proper redirection is HIGHLY effective, and is ALWAYS my first choice when dealing with a toddler who is misbehaving. It is an excellent teaching tool, and most importantly, it discourages unnecessary conflict. Parents absolutely MUST pick their battles. Turning every unwanted action into a conflict, a battle of the wills, will burn out both parent and child. Proper redirection gives the child an opportunity to comply and find a better activity, and if he complies, it weeds out a long stressful fight.

    7. Oh wow I could not have disagreed with you more. So funny to me when someone offers an advice to other moms “try this it will work (because it works /worked on my now well behaved full grown kids)” Every child is different. Every child’s development is different. This “your way” may work on some of your readers’ kids if their kids’ development is as fast as yours. Treat them like adults? No that is a garbage advice

  3. Hi Janet I like your article but im not sure what are you suppose to do with a one year old who keeps pulling plugs out of walls and turning switches off tv, stereo etc. We say a firm no and explain how dangerous it is but she just goes back and I find myself doing distraction as I move her away from the tv, plug etc and move her to a different area with her toys etc so she stays away from the tv she knows not to do it as shell turn and watch us with a grin prior to touching it or when we say no. thanks

    1. Hi Rebecca! I don’t believe it’s fair to have these kinds of options available to your young toddler. That is one of the reasons I strongly believe in creating safe play spaces for babies and toddlers. She needs a place to learn and explore freely without hearing NO or being distracted when she does normal, healthy toddler things. I realize that some believe that an enclosed play space is “jail”. This is an adult perception. Children see enclosed places as freedom, especially when they are established early on. Children deserve to feel free and accepted rather than bothersome to their parents and not have their natural curiosity arrested. It is also not surprising that she is drawn to the plugs and TV when she gets a stern reaction… That kind of negative attention compels young children…probably because it is unsettling to receive such a response…

    2. My 12 month old son has been interested in the sockets and cables that I have been unable to remove from his area since he could crawl (about 2 months now). I tell him “I won’t let you touch sockets/plugs/cables, can you find something else to do?” And, “You’re having trouble leaving the cables, do you need me to move you?” The first 3 times I had to move him, which of course led to tears. Now though, he still will try and touch them, but he moves on as soon as I tell him I won’t let him. If he didn’t stop, again, I would move him. Thing is, I followed though every time, so now he knows the limit.

      (Not all RIE principles are working for us – nappy changing is still a struggle even though since birth I’ve been honest, talked about what I’m doing, and asked for cooperation – but he still cries and squirms).

      I just want to say – don’t give up, be firm, and follow though every time.

    3. I would make the effort to child proof. My entire living room and half my first floor is open to him exploring as I have set up gates, outlet covers, socket covers, handle covers, cabinet latches…. try not to set him up for failure. They even make outlet covers designed to be used while things are plugged in. Reducing the frequency of HAVING to say ‘no’ really helps. I purposefully left things in the area to say ‘no’ about that wouldn’t hurt him, that way there are still teaching opportunities. I am a very attached, peaceful parent. This is what has worked for me and my very headstrong two year old boy (who happens to be tall as a 4 year old and has a crazy reach haha)

      1. About that….isn’t not saying anything to a child that explores a ‘safe’ plug let them think it’s ok to do so and generalize to unsafe plugs (for example when on visit somewhere). I am having trouble with that one….
        The entire main floor is a safe space however I feel I need to teach my toddler about possible dangers?


  4. I’m not sure I agree. I think mirroring is the best way to allow a child to feel understood and before they can express their emotions you are really putting your own words in their mouths.

    Now that my son is almost 3 1/2, he is just starting to clearly express his own feelings and they aren’t always the words I would have chosen. The other day he was throwing a fit me not having a certain toy he wanted when we were out and I asked him why he was so upset. He responded that he was “so worried about where my car is” – I might have said sad or frustrated. Instead I mirrored back that he was so worried and I was sorry and we would have his car when we got home. Because of this I’m not sure talking to them repeatedly or extensively about their feelings is great at the toddler stage.

    However, I do agree that redirection should not be a replacement for boundaries. I never forgo the rules for enticement. If we are leaving the park and they are having fits I say “I know you don’t want to leave but it’s time for bath [or bed or lunch, whatever]. Do you want some cheerios for the ride home?”

    1. Carinn, I totally agree with you about not naming emotions unless we feel absolutely certain. That is why I usually use words like ‘upset’, or ask a question, “Did that surprise you?” rather than stating “that scared you.”

  5. Hi, I just found your website and I cannot stop reading posts! I love this post! It has always bothered me watching parents frantically “dangle” something different in front of their child (and calmly call it “redirection”). It just makes the parent look insecure in their ability to give their child instruction. The child sees the insecurity just as much as I do!
    This is a different type of “distraction”, but this drives me crazy too: We have a 15 month old son. When a certain grandparent offers to keep our son, she tries to get him interested in something and then she tells us to sneak out. No! I don’t want him to think that if he is actively engaged in an activity his parents will disappear! It’s ok to be sad if we leave. We will be back! The funny thing is, he rarely cries when I leave him with someone else. We give hugs and kisses and say “bye”. He waves and plays and is excited when I return.
    Thanks for this post. Sometimes parenting magazines tell you differently so this gives me confidence.

    1. You’re welcome, Kelli! And I totally agree about “sneaking out”. That is the perfect way to undermine trust and discourage involvement in play.

  6. I love your articles Janet, but I disagree with this one a bit. While I agree with letting children work out their own struggles (with more or less guidence depending on need!) especially with other childen, I disagree that it is disrespectful if child is drawing on the sofa and I say “I do not like you drawing there, but you can draw here.” and I would classify that as redirection.
    Redirection is just saying “this is not acceptable, but this is” and I don’t think that is phoney.

    1. Hi Krystal! If you take a look at the other comments here, you’ll see that we’ve discussed that very idea…and your point is well taken. I totally agree that your example is healthy and not “redirection” as I perceive it in this post.

  7. I wish I’d read this earlier, I used redirection and then found there’s an age where it doesn’t work anymore!

  8. I agree with the above posters about my definition of redirection did not neccessarily fit what was defined above. In fact I think Mary Linton described it best above and that is what we’ve been taught in my ECE classes.

    I do find myself using distraction more when we’re out in public because it is harder to control the environment and I can’t help but feel my parenting is being judged by others. For example, the doctor’s office waiting room there is a giant sign that is right in front of the TV and so all the kids sit near there and of course want to touch and explore the sign. I often distract with activities that are appropriate in that environment, such as taking a drink from the water fountain, sitting at the little table with chairs and coloring, reading, or giving them a toy. I guess I need to be better about setting limits. It’s sometimes tough and takes more effort. I have to remember step one: breathe. 🙂 Thanks!

  9. This is an interesting post, because – as previously discussed in the comments – there is a very fine line between redirection/distraction and offering alternative ways to deal with firm limits. I don’t think I use redirection as an alternative to setting limits. The limits are set, the toddler gets upset, and we acknowldge it… but offering an alternative (like in your example with offering paper) doesn’t seem like a terrible idea. One of my toddlers is very determined, and gets very upset when she doesn’t get what she wants. I try to always acknowledge her emotions (although as Carinn notes, sometimes I wonder if she’s sad, or angry, or something else, since right now, without any words, many of her feelings are expressed with a tantrum). I say “I see that you are so upset because you can’t have the toy your brother is playing with. It’s ok to be upset. You have a lot of other toys to play with – would you like to play one of these instead, until he’s done?” I guess I’m not sure how much of that is redirection and how much is just trying to help them deal with their emotions, and see some alternatives.
    Or with the example of mom or dad leaving, when the toddler gets upset, I’m not sure if it’s a bad idea to ackowledge those feelings, then try to help them move on. (“I see that you are upset that Mom just left. You would like her to stay here with you. It’s ok to be upset. She’ll be back later. But I would love to play with you – would you like to play a game together?”)

  10. I love this technique for my almost two year old I’m honest about if I’m upset if he does something dangerous and he knows it. However I cannot stop him from playing with electrical outlets. Any suggestions? I used to try redirection, then time outs, then raising my voice ( I’m very frustrated at times and say ” mommy doesn’t want to see you get hurt” and nothing is sinking in. He takes plugs out, plugs things in, takes the covers off. It’s been daily for about a year I’m so frustrated. I know consistency is key but I’m stuck here. I love your articles and would appreciate any feedback.

    1. Sara, At that point I would look at switching plate covers or putting furniture in front of the it, if possible. The environment probably needs to be changed. Good luck! Rachel

  11. I truly am starting (after about 3 years) of being parent about how emotions are NOT bad. I have my days and sometimes I feel like running away, but I always come back to the understanding that the little people, asleep right now, are brilliant. For me, they know exactly what I need to learn and they are my teachers every day. Sometimes I am exhausted and caught up in a clock to notice. However, I am waking up to the fact, I feel I can connect with them at a deeper level and this post made it even more clear!

  12. I am a mother of four and grandmother of three. None of this child-rearing should be so complicated. Children haven’t changed; parenting has.

    If you say what you mean and mean what you say, they will know you expect them to listen. If they are fooling with the outlets, you have not been strong enough in your admonition.

    I cared for an 5-year old autistic child who when I was interviewing, climbed on a table over and over and over again with the mother calmly telling this child “no” but to no avail. When he was with me, I only had to tell him twice because he knew I meant business by the tone and look he received.

    Act like a leader and use a strong voice of authority. If they still do not listen rap them on the leg and believe me the sting will do them more good than harm. And you can stop being run around by the nose by a toddler.

    If you do not set the ground rules when they are toddlers, you are going to produce whining brats as they get older – a scene that is way too common in the grocery store these days.

    Nip it in the bud and let them know who is boss: You are but you have to be believable.

    1. Kathleen, you are barking up the wrong tree if you think you will get any positive responses from anyone here,or from children for that matter, if you think that striking children is a good thing. This is NOT a place that advocates corporal punishment.

    2. avatar Elizabeth says:

      @Kathleen- it is seriously disturbing to me that you are advocating hitting a child as a way to get them to listen to you. Instilling a fear of being hit into a child is not “acting like a leader”; it’s being an abuser. When it happens in families, it’s called domestic violence. I pray that you get the help you need to understand the damage you are doing before it is too late.

  13. Your example of markers on the couch is a perfect example of correctly done redirection! You explain that markers are not used on couches, THEN you redirected to positive behavior. That is the perfect execution of the very technique you are criticizing. Just because some do not implement redirection correctly does not mean it is ineffective, weak or a parenting cop out. Indeed, it is a very effective teaching tool for both teaching about the wrong behavior but also teaching emotion regulation through the redirect.

  14. One point is wrong here: toddler do NOT understand explanations. Sure they understand our disagreement, sure we have to state a firm “no, we don’t paint on a sofa, you can paint on this paper”. This is a distraction, the divertion of attention to something else, that is acceptable, accompanied with physical intervention if needed. Just stating “don’t draw on a sofa” without offering an acceptable option means leaving the toddler in a kind of vacuum where she has to look herself for something else, perhaps only to end up with unacceptable again. “–would you distract an adult in the middle of a disagreement and direct her to mop up the floor? Then why treat a younger person like a fool?” Are you proposing to treat babies like adults??? Babies, toddler and children have another concsciency than adults have. With explanations you cannot achieve anything with small children. Children are not small stupid adults… you treat then with respect. But the respect has to involve respecting the age appropriate dealing with children. Bianca, early years teacher

    1. Bianca, I think you’ve misunderstood this post. I agree with you that we should offer an acceptable choice and I don’t consider that a distraction — that is honesty: “don’t paint on a sofa, you can paint on this paper”. That is exactly what I am recommending.

  15. Great article, though I do agree with others here that it feels like what your are really advocating against is not “redirection”, but distraction, as a tactic. My understanding of redirecting children is not to distract them from their original intention with something unrelated, but to redirect that intention toward a more appropriate outlet or application. In your example of drawing on the couch, the goal would be to acknowledge the child’s desire to create, then provide a more appropriate canvass for their creation (paper). To me, what you describe as redirection is just poor execution of the concept! Also, with regard to the honesty of addressing one’s own frustration about drawing on the couch, it feels premature to characterize this as a conflict, with opportunity for learning, without having offered alternatives as a first step. As you mention, I think offering REAL choices instead of fabricated distractions is the fundamental concept.

  16. Hi there, Janet. I want to say that I am enjoying your articles immensely, and much of your suggestions and Magda Gerber’s outlook resonate with my natural inclinations and instincts, which is a validating to say the least! Haha.

    However, for the purposes of this article, I think that what many people understand redirection to be is exactly what you counsel. Set a boundary firmly and kindly, acknowledge any emotions arise about being stopped, and help them move on to an appropriate activity, preferably one that allows their initial inclination to be fulfilled (such as discouraging drawing on the couch and offering paper as an option instead). To me, and to others commenting (as well as the attachment minded parenting group I shared this article with), this is redirection. It seems to me that what you counsel against is distraction, and smoothing over.

    Perhaps it is out of line for me to suggest changing the term in the article to ‘distraction’, but for the sake of reducing any confusion around what is an excellent article. Or maybe clarifying what redirection should be and what it should not be. Sort of like drawing the distinction between punishment and discipline? Just my thoughts.

    Thank you for this wealth of articles! I look forward to reading them all.


    1. Hi Siobhan and thank you for your kind words! I totally see your point and I regret confusing the issue of redirection for people who do use it appropriately. You’ll notice, though, that there’s plenty of excellent discussion and clarification about that in previous comments. And all these wonderful comments (yours included) are the reason I think it’s now too late to change the term to ‘distraction’. This whole discussion would be irrevelvant! So, I think it’s best to leave it and hope people will read the comments along with the post. But again, thank you for being so thoughtful and sharing your good advice, Siobhan!

      1. As a fellow blogger and RIE advocate, I don’t think it’s too late to change the title of this excellent article. Many people don’t bother or have time to read the comments on posts. So to make it clear that you are actually talking about distraction and not redirection, I strongly recommend changing the title as I almost didn’t read this as my version of redirection is exactly what you describe here. All the best!

  17. avatar Brooke Hoff says:

    I like your article and agree with your points, but as an educator, what you recommend doing “instead of saying, “I won’t let you draw on the sofa. Here’s some paper if you want to draw,” is what I was taught as redirection. Children at this age need to be given the correct choice as well as told what not to do. When you want to eliminate a behavior, you need to show them what they can do to fill the vacuum. However, this is all still re-directing the child to an appropriate task; it is just being done with age-appropriate, meaningful instruction (discipline).

    1. Brooke, I agree with you, and “I won’t let you draw on the sofa, but here’s some paper you can draw on” is exactly what I would recommend saying. If you skim through the comments, you’ll notice that I’ve addressed this healthy, positive definition for ‘redirection’.

      Unfortunately, many parents and professionals use ‘redirection’ to describe a much more distractive or directive response… The example of “redirection” a parent gave (that originally inspired this post) was, “Here, draw a smiley face for me on this piece of paper”, which does not teach children the limit or respect their abilities.

  18. Janet-Thanks for another excellent post! Very good wisdom! I am learning so much from your site. I have read Ezzo (literally threw them in the trash!), Karp, and AP sites. Yours is by far is so realistic and teaches us how to be a respectful parent. I need to learn more RIE skills, but once again thankful! Sherra

  19. Fantastic article. I have two boys, almost 5 yo and 16 mos. who are so so strong-willed! I’ve always leaned more towards the approach you describe even when they were very young. Yes, sometimes they scream and throw fits, but so do I (in my own adult way) when things don’t go the way I want. We’re all learning and I totally agree that you don’t grow if you don’t experience conflict and resolution from the beginning. Thanks for a great perspective on this! Being a parent is the best and most difficult thing I’ve ever done!! 🙂

  20. “I won’t let you draw on the sofa. Here’s some paper if you want to draw,” This is exactly what I did and I called it redirection, lol. Of course, my first child wasn’t one who was easily redirected, so I have always had to add the “why”. “I don’t want you to do this, but, you CAN do this”. Maybe it’s respectful redirection since I’m still switching them from one activity to another.

  21. avatar kat fiore says:

    i think you are completely wrong..although redirection should actually be done differently than you have described. true redirection is when you completely ignore the negative behavior..refraining from even making eye contact with the child. you then remove them from the undesired action and put them in a desired one.. only stating ONCE what you want them to do and never once stating what not to do.. you completing assume here that all children are also neurotypical and in you want to ‘elevate’ child care you may want to consider the many many many many autistic, add adhd dyslexic or just ‘different’ minds that are out there. it isn’t about what is respectful or not children at that age need to be shown the correct behavior. If you assume a toddler or prek or k aged kid understands it like you do you are completely off base. everything is learned behavioir you do not need to ‘teach’ them to have a conflict at all.. just only reinforce things that are appropriate

  22. I don’t understand the reasoning behind your wording: “I won’t let you…” and “I can’t let you…” That, to me, conveys a message that relieves the child of responsibility for his/her actions and that the parent is in control of those actions. While parents set the rules and limitations, guide children and enforce those rules, the child needs to understand that HE/SHE may not act in an undesirable way or do a certain thing. Phrasings such as “You may not write on the couch” or “You may not hit” would lend the responsibility to the child, rather than “I won’t let you write on the couch…” Isn’t the goal of governing our children’s behavior and actions that he/she will be equipped to govern themselves?
    A grown-up example I’ve used with my young students when teaching about rules, as well as with my own children, is that I need to obey traffic signs at ALL times, when other cars are not in sight and when police are not present to enforce. I expect them to learn that rules are in place to keep order and to keep us and others safe and we need to follow them even when no one is looking. We should ultimately follow rules because we want to– the well-being of others and the desire to do good should be an internal force that drives us to obey.
    Can you give the reasoning behind your phrasings?

    1. Kim, there are several reasons for “I won’t let you”.

      1. “I won’t let you” understands that young children often behave impulsively, rather than thoughtfully. It’s not that they don’t understand the rules; it’s that their feelings and impulses cause them to make a different choice in that moment.

      2. “I won’t let you” connotes helpfulness, care, protection.

      3. “I won’t let you” understands that children need to feel a connection with us to be able to comply with our rules and internalize them, which leads to self-discipline. “You may not” is far more distant.

      Suchada from Mama Eve explains the value of “I won’t let you” beautifully in this post: http://www.mamaeve.com/effective-discipline/the-most-valuable-parenting-phrase-after-i-love-you/

      1. Thank you for explaining. I will read the as article.

  23. Hi. Please help. My 16 month old pinches and hits me and i take it so personally and grab his arm too hard and say in a mean voice we don’t hurt in this family. I feel really guilty afterwards for getting so angry. I know i’m not doing the right thing here but get so fed up when he hurts.

    1. avatar Elizabeth says:

      Lamb, it is really frustrating when a toddler does something that physically hurts us. They’re not able to reason that it is wrong at this point, however, so since you’re the adult, you need to not take it “personally”. Have you considered looking into some parenting classes which help you deal with toddlers? There are a few in my area (Durham NC) that are just terrific. Offered for free, they are also a great way to connect with other parents. Ask at your pediatrician’s office for recommendations. Also check out Harvey Carp’ _The Happiest Toddler on the Block_ for great tips on how to handle challenging toddlers. Good luck.

  24. avatar Melissa N says:

    My husband and I are attempting this … I really feel this belief/practice/philosophy speaks to me… But our son is not a toddler… I have read the article and some of the comments to see if you answered the question I have… So I don’t want to redirect but it’s ok to offer an alternative like drawing on the paper but initially you just want to say” I won’t let you draw on the couch” what if the response isn’t crying but “why?” I feel like sometimes are answers are long winded an he keeps asking why and then your reasoning with a child and you get stressed out irritated and annoyed . My son is 5 how do you respond while not redirecting at some point I say I already told you you need to find something else to do.

  25. avatar Melissa N says:

    Another example is sometimes he wants to play rough with my husband who is his stepdad and my husband does wrestle with him sometimes but other times he’s tired from work and says he wont or doesn’t want to but the my son proceeds to climb on him and drop his weight as to unbalance him anyways he tries to wrestle…..say no I’m tired today”why” because work was long”why” etc all while still trying to climb all over him… Are we not suppose to let him distract us with the question and just keep saying I don’t want to I won’t let you climb … Also sometimes I butt in… Should I stay Out of it

  26. Janet,
    I must say I loved reading your article, it was refreshing, and on the mark. I have am living the dangerous of the concept of “redirection” we adopted our youngest when he was 3. His behaviors are out of control, it has been with us two years already. In his previous foster home and school he was “redirected.” When he kicks,spits, throws his food and other kids food, and slaps children and teachers at his preschool he does not want to deal with the consequences. He has a therapist, behavior therapist, physician, and psychiatrist all working together to no avail. He has had psychiatric evaluations and an IEP completed and they find nothing wrong. He is extremely smart, but also manipulative. He enjoys being treated as if he were special needs because then he doesn’t deal with the consequences of his actions. It is more fun to hurt someone and get all the attention and “redirection” (a walk, an enjoyable little conversation, given a snack, etc)while the individual being hurt is told to buck up. How can we expect these children being raised in the “redirection era” to be responsible teenagers and deal with the consequences to their actions? I doubt the juvenile court judge will “redirect” a teenager who has physically or sexually assaulted, or stolen, or even killed someone. How can we expect them to move out and go to school or get a job, if they have never faced a consequence to their actions. The real world does not “redirect” a adult when they commit a crime, so why not teach children right from wrong at an early age.

  27. Hi Janet,
    I am a mom to a 5 month old and a soon to be 17 month old. I am just finding you for the first time and I love your parenting style. I have found myself raising my voice to my toddler especially when busy with my infant. I have not always liked the way or learned a better way to parent my toddler. I have naturally found myself implementing some of your techniques and am much happier with myself at the end of the day when I treat my toddler with respect. As a parent of 2 adopted children I put a lot of pressure on myself to be an amazing parent and feel disappointed when I am not. I feel that they will already have to deal with the emotions of being adopted and don’t need any big parenting mistakes on my part. I love that your article makes me feel that what I am doing is alright and not to give up. I admit I have felt the urge to smack a hand when she will not listen to me. She is a very stubborn child and will repeat what is not ok over and over again. My house is extremely child proof and she has complete access to the downstairs area of our home. She is a climber and can get herself in dangerous situations and has fallen a few times. She also terrorizes my 2 dogs and cat and has been scratched by the cat. She knows what is ok and not ok but she repeatedly goes after what is not ok and distraction rarely works. When she puts her mind to something it is all she can see. I have not given up and I am constantly working with her but it does start to frustrate me when she sees me changing the baby and takes that time as her opportunity to do everything she is not supposed to. Getting her out to play and wear her out is usually the best option she gets board staying home but it is freezing and options are limited for play. It does not help we just got over a ten day virus so going out to play was not an option with everyone sick. Any advice would be appreciated. I saw the post about smacking them and that just upset me. I have tapped her on the hand NOT smacked and that just made her melt down and need to be held. The thought of purposefully causing pain to my girls makes my stomach turn. I am going to do a lot of research on RIE parenting.

  28. I absolutely agree. My children are 2 & 3. After taking a deep breath I try to put myself in their shoes and tell myself that there aren’t being “naughty”, they simply haven’t been in a position to learn not to do something before.
    One example springs to mind when my eldest was just 3. He drew a 3ft digger on the wall so I calmly explained that we don’t draw on walls and he helped me to clean it off. Later that day he came up to me (unprompted), apologised and told me that he thought that we would like a pretty picture on the wall. I thanked him for the thought and offered some other suggestions for places to draw next time.
    To me it proved that for the most part children don’t deliberately try to upset a parent, quite the opposite, there is usually a good deed in there somewhere.

  29. I agree with you completly, I did try redirecting sometimes but up to his 6mo because I realized 1 I was not fooling him, and 2 he was not learning, I am amazed that my child now 15mo now asks things, in his baby language when I say no, and I explain why not and he is happier, he does cry and gets upset when I take things away but I always explain why or show him the acceptable way of doing things , like turning the spoon in the cereal but not splatting and i can tell he appreciates it

  30. I have only just discovered RIE. My almost 3 year old has alwAys had extensive tantrums that went on and on. I tried distraction and it never worked. We would just revisit the same argument 5 minutes later over and over. I now have the courage and skills to allow her to work through her emotions and support her whilst she is doing so. Thank you

  31. I do think that both techniques work, I have worked with early years for 16 years and have a 2 year old. I always explain and model good behaviours and manners ( what is acceptable in society today). If it’s sharing a toy with other it’s explained that it’s their turn and why it’s important to share, this can happen two or three times. Some children find it difficult to accept, then I use distraction, by offering another toy but try and still engage them in play with others until it is their turn.
    I don’t think there is any right or wrong way but what works in individual settings and homes. There is always ways of adapting others methods to suit your circumstances.

  32. I’m a nanny and I think redirection is definitely a cool technique to use. For example, this afternoon, miss four wanted to scribble all over her mother’s birthday card, which I knew her mum would be upset about and when I said no to that, insisted on it. Rather than upset her by snatching it away from her, I said, “If you let me take the card, I’ll let you scribble in my notebook instead.” That way, the tutor at our agency gets to see a picture from her, and her mum doesn’t get upset. Win win. Aaaaand other times, it doesn’t work. She wanted chips the other week from the cupboard when dinner was two minutes off being ready – so I told her no, absolutely not. So she started to whine, and then cry loud enough for the neighbours to hear, and then scream for mummy. I simply told her that it didn’t matter how much she cried, I wasn’t giving her chips as it was time for dinner. She soon got the message.

  33. I have worked in daycare for many, many years, and I NEED the redirect to do my job. However, I will say that the things that you mention as potential downsides of the redirect are things that I actively try to avoid. Now, you will see me being extremely “phony” upbeat and goofy to dissuade a toddler from doing something that might be dangerous or forbidden – (leaving the confines of the play area for example – it’s not a learning experience, they aren’t being naughty, they just innocently want to explore – there is no “learning opportunity here”). Sometimes my energy wanes and I will simply and gently walk them back to where they should be and interest them in something else. But those goofy and fun times have helped me build rapport and a strong and friendly relationship with children that are not my own, that may have only known me for a couple of days. Yes, it’s phony, but they don’t know that. (And if you think adults can’t be taken in by the same kind of ‘phoniness’ just think of the vast body of entertainers! We love to be entertained and distracted – it works!) Now when it comes to children’s interactions with their friends, I probably wait to intervene a little longer than some of my coworkers. I will sit and watch what happens sometimes before jumping in. And then rather than redirect from a situation I will try to the extent that the child is developed enough to emulate, teach them the correct way to handle a situation. Oh, you want the block Susie has? You think that if you hit her you can have it? Well, I just stopped you from hitting but let’s try this – here’s this other toy, Susie isn’t this a great toy? Often Susie will intuitively hand the block to Joey, everybody’s happy, no one got hurt, but they did learn some conflict resolution. It will be years before this lesson “sticks” but for a moment as a teacher, I won. And above all, I am a proponent of calm. Even if a child is flipping out, I do my best to remain relaxed and gentle so that they know that I am not the enemy. At any rate, I think that based on the rest of your post that you appreciate the redirect as well, (what is distracting but redirecting?). You just don’t like the lazy way many childcare givers are using it, which I get. But I still say a lazy redirect is waaaay better than a time out or corporal punishment!

  34. With all the child abuse in the world these days, I question parents who say they don’t care about being the good guy……you don’t have to be a good ‘guy”, just a good parent. Redirecting is good up to a certain age for a one year old may not comprehend playing with the blinds may break them, while a 4 year old can. Each child has to be directed and handled as an individual, depending on age, the ability to comprehend and must be treated age appropriately. One way is not good for all children..it’s a one on one way of parenting.

  35. Wonderful article! You are extremely intelligent! My daughter relied on the redirect technique and the grandsons’ behavior just got worse and worse. Instead of acknowledging redirect is a bad practice she now blames bad genes from me as the source of her problems. Because of opposing this (and other) dysfunctional practices I have been ostracized from the family and am no longer allowed to see my grandchildren.

  36. Great article, thanks a lot! 😉

  37. I love the article and I agree with you 100%. I have been teaching toddlers for over 20 years. But I would change the would redirection to distraction. You can redirect a child exactly as you talked about. “You may not do this, but I am going to redirect you what you can do. I am not going to distract you with into doing something without any explanation” if you replaced the word redirection with distraction then maybe parents would understand it better.

  38. If your example is what people do then I agree that they are doing it wrong. Of course you start with talking about that it’s not okay to draw on the sofa and that doing so is unacceptable. The point is, especially with toddlers, power struggles never work and just increase frustration which will increase misbehavior. The best thing you can do is remain calm. Get up off the couch, put your phone down and move the toddler interrupting the behavior. The worst example I see (and I see it a lot) is a parent on the other side of the room, phone in hand who is trying to change behavior by yelling (and cursing) from afar. A young toddler has little ability to use logic so disruption and distraction are the best you can do most of the time. Hopefully you were providing enough supervision that the marker ever made it to the sofa in the first place. (58 yr old mom, Montessori instructor and professional Nanny)

  39. avatar Coral Zantopoulos says:

    I agree with what you explain in the article but I don’t care for the title. You still use redirection in your solutions. Telling them no you can’t draw on the sofa but you can draw on this paper is a form of redirection. Saying you can use the toy when the other child is done , and ask if they want to use antihero you while they wait, is also redirecting still. This is how i redirect, I tell them the rule and the truth of what they can’t do and why but offer them a safe alternative. This is redirection.

  40. What a great article! I prefer being “real” with my children from the start as well. I think being phony with a young child and always redirecting(, creates an adolescent who can’t deal with life…always crying, having hurt feelings when anyone says anything that is not “redirecting” to him. In this real world that we live in very few middle and high school peers and teachers will take time to redirect anyone. Moving forward to life after high school…..that’s when people, who lack the ability to deal with this very “real” struggle in the pool of life, have to sink or swim. Start babies off from the beginning teaching them how to swim…no life jackets…no phoni-ness..anyways that’s my opinion :))

  41. avatar Jennifer Douglass says:

    I feel like your definition fo redirection is too narrowly defined. I’m an early child professional working with infants and toddlers and their parents. I would describe your initial example of what you should say and do ( “I won’t let you draw on the sofa. Here’s some paper if you want to draw,” )as “redirection.” More so than the second example of suggesting drawing a silly face. By letting the child know where they are allowed to draw, you are redirecting them from the sofa, to the paper. Redirection doesn’t have to include phoniness, and it doesn’t have to be over the top. You’re right that at that at the point where the adult is becoming artificially cheery or jumping through hoops to entertain, it becomes more about distracting the child from their feelings, than setting appropriate limits. When working with parents of young children, I use the term “redirection” to refer to the second step in setting a limit. First I let the child know the rule, then I let them know what they can do instead. “You can’t play alone in the front yard, but you can go into the backyard alone.” “I’m not offering juice to drink right now, but I can get you water.” “I can’t let you climb on the table, but you can climb over here (on a climber, or a pile of cushions, or whatever safe alternative can be made available).” Letting the child know which behaviors are appropriate and allowed falls under the definition of redirection, and it feels unnecessarily argumentative to claim otherwise. Your reasons are all valid in regards to the form of over-the-top distraction that some parents resort to in attempting to avoid their child’s negative feelings, but I don’t think it makes sense to assume that that is what most people are referring to when they suggest redirection as a form of limit setting for young children.

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