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?

170 Comments

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

  1. Hallelujah! Now where are all those people who told me I was “mean” when I disagreed with the redirecting method at the height of its popularity? I’d like to have a word with them. 😉 Good stuff.

    1. You have offered many beautiful suggestions that help raise emotionally healthy children. I must, however, offer a huge point: Young children, especially up to the age of three, do not have the brain development needed to make cognitive or intellectual connections between your words which offer the ‘reason’ for not coloring on your couch and the connections necessary for remembering these rules the next time- nor do they have the connections in the brain to hold on to the reasoning and transfer it to their behavior. That is WHY they need you to help with the redirection. Please do not compare an infant or toddler’s mis-behavior’s to an older child or an adult’s behavior because all the brain research is proving that the little ones do not have the ability to give us consistently what we want. And NEVER think the children don’t know when you are being phony. It comes through in your energy no matter what words you say. All of your suggestions are perfect! Just don’t forget that re direction is part of the teaching and ‘discipline’ is not punishment but teaching. As children reach three years old (and for some twos) you add the words and the reasoning which starts to transfer without the need for redirection as they move into their fours and fives. It’s part of the process of learning.
      .Hugs,
      Sandi Schwartz, M.A. Founder of Leading Edge Parenting

      1. Sandi, thanks for your compliments and additions to this conversation, especially: Please do not compare an infant or toddler’s mis-behavior’s to an older child or an adult’s behavior because all the brain research is proving that the little ones do not have the ability to give us consistently what we want
        True, toddlers do not have the same intellectual understanding as an adult and they certainly don’t have the impulse control. Even if they do completely comprehend the reason we don’t want them to behave a certain way, they cannot be expected to stop doing whatever it is. But toddlers do deserve the same level of honesty we would give an older child or an adult. And, in my experience, infant/toddler comprehension is often hugely underestimated and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy…children comprehend more when we offer them more. We just have to slow down our speech a little and speak about things that are meaningful to the child, like what is really happening right now.

        When redirection is about giving acceptable options rather than manipulative distractions, I’m all for it! I agree with others who have said that the problem with child care lingo like “redirection” is that it’s ripe for misinterpretation. That is one of the reasons Magda Gerber did not like using child care lingo.

        1. Sandi, as the mum of a gifted child I must protest that some very young children do have a capacity to appreciate very simple reasoning when it’s phrased in an age-appropriate way. Children are not able to be so clearly defined according to chronological age- one needs to know the child to know what will and won’t work. Reasoning often worked with my very bright 2 1/2-year-old who was already asking WHY?- not always; he had tantrums too, but often could be brought around by a respectful explanation.

          Also, I find that reasoning calmly and respectfully with a child helps me to adopt the right tone of voice to settle them, and even allows me to introduce some humour- ‘if you stand up there you’ll fall- BANG!’ (accompanied by a big hand clap and expressive face) ‘-and hurt your head- owww!’ (holding head and pretending to cry)- which in itself provides something of a useful change of mood. Another example is ‘I can’t understand your words when you’re crying, so I don’t know what you want,’ which has broken through many a tantrum with children of toddler age who have slightly advanced receptive language skills.

          I use these strategies often in the nursery at my workplace where I deal with children from walking age to 2 and they’re very effective for me.

          1. (Just thought I’d mention that Margaret Donaldson’s fine text ‘Children’s Minds’ also supports my premise that young children can reason when they understand both the language used and the human context of the situation.)

          2. The “I can’t hear your words when you’re crying” works so well on the whining too…

            “I can’t hear your words when you talk like that”.

            Nixes the whining! ANNNDDDD then I don’t go crazy. 😉

      2. Kids under the age of 3 might not be able to understand the reasons you are giving them for not doing something. But they still understand ‘no’, and body language. Depending on the seriousness of the situation redirection might be ok, but in some circumstances, the kids just need to learn that when mum or dad says no, you do what they say. A 2 or 3 year old can understand that. Even a 1 year old can. My 1 year old cousin *knew* he was not allowed near the pedestal fan, so much so that he’d look around to make sure people weren’t watching before he crawled near it. When he saw his 16yo sister watching and saying “no”, he’d grin cheekily and crawl a little closer, then look back to check her reaction. Being just a sister obviously she can’t discipline him, but if that was a parent instead, I’d say that’s the point where you discipline, or at least firmly say “no” and physically stop him from going any closer. Redirection itself – trying to trick him into doing something else – would be pointless; he would *know* you were just trying to get him to stop going near the fan. And he was just shy of 1.

    2. avatar Anna Gunn says:

      I agree with you and have been trying to practice it. Largely unappreciated point of view right now. I’m sure it’s the next wave. These are sophisticated children. Why are people still scared of the word “No”? I am always watching my tone. Yet at the same time believe the tone could be a critical clue.

      1. I really hope you’re right about honesty with children being “the next wave”, Anna!

  2. I agree with you even though sometimes it’s hard to do it this way. Sometimes you just want to take the easy way out but of course it always bites you in the butt in the end.

    1. Erica, I was remembering a wonderful post you wrote about your experience with the difficulty, but great reward of setting limits. Allowing your daughter to express her feelings in response was bonding for both of you. I loved it so much that I looked it up!: http://www.polkadothippo.com/2011/03/enlightened.html

  3. I cringe anytime I see someone (including my husband!) redirect a child. It just feels disrespectful. I would freak out if I were expressing my upset about something to a friend or my husband and they tried to distract me by changing the subject. 🙂

  4. avatar Christine says:

    I agree with you to an extent. I think that redirection is appropriate as a situational tactic, but should not be discouraged altogether. There is a definite need to provide real boundaries, expectations, and consequences for children (as a teacher I see too few children who have experienced this). However, there are times when I have to use redirection with my own two year old; for my sanity (which is important for maintaining a healthy relationship with my son), and because there are times when the teachable moment will be lost on him during a total meltdown. Perhaps it’s inconsistent, but it works for us.

  5. avatar Christine says:

    I want to add that it is true, that a toddler is quite capable of seeing through the deception of redirection, as I have witnessed with my son. Which is why, for the most part, we do not redirect him. But as I previously stated, there have been a few occasions, where redirection or distraction, has been implemented because at that moment, it was the best solution.

    1. I would certainly encourage you (and anyone) to do what you feel is best for your child.

  6. Every one of your points are excellent and right on. My son is 8, so we’re obviously past the toddler stage 🙂 I cringe whenever I see a parent or any adult use this kind of redirection on a child. You are right that it is dishonest (phony) and you are teaching a child to be dishonest. It hinders them developing the skill to deal with conflict. It hinders them from developing a longer attention span. And it is just plain selfish on the adult’s part as they are simply trying to avoid the scene. I’ll definitely be passing your article along.

    Kay Pelham

  7. I have been teaching at a Montessori school for four years and we use a very different definition of redirection. Yes, we will try to distract a child if what they are intent on is about to disturb another child’s concentration, because concentration is most important – conflict resolution opportunities come up all the time and therefore don’t get missed because of this. However, when a child is wanting to do something damaging or destructive, we “redirect” by offering an acceptable alternative, just like your example of giving paper to draw on – because if you set a limit without telling what IS acceptable it gets you nowhere. That’s what redirection means within the Montessori community. I agree that the redirection you’ve described here is awful! I’ll have to start using a different word to explain how we do things in the classroom, so parents don’t misunderstand. Thank you for such a well worded and respectful post.

    1. This is an excellent point, and precisely what I was thinking. Acceptable alternatives are really valuable, because they honor the desire or the need in the child to do a certain thing while still respecting the needs of those around her (I can see that you really need to run and be noisy right now, but that can be dangerous inside and hurt others’ ears. Let’s walk outside together so that you can do all the running and yelling you need to).

      The type of redirection Janet is describing most certainly is not helpful and I truly appreciation the well thought out explanation of why.

      1. I completely agree with the above two comments, but my baby is only 6 months, so I say this as a teacher. Janet addresses this by “giving a real choice” which is probably what is used in the Montessori program, as well as my own classroom.

        As you explain to the child what the rules are, you validate their emotions and then offer them real choices: “We can draw on paper, or paint a picture. We can draw on the chalkboard, too. But we can’t draw on the sofa.”

        Unless I’ve misunderstood…?

  8. We used a lot of distraction with my older son when he was younger, simply because I didn’t know any other way. I’d never seen adults be authentic with children (and often not with each other), and I had a big fear of meltdowns that I thought would occur if I was honest with him. It’s been a pleasant surprise to see both my children rarely throw a tantrum in the face of honesty. Sometimes they remain curious, and I have to suggest something else to hold their attention, but I only do so after I’ve been up-front about what I don’t want them to do and they persist.

    In most circumstances, though, my boys are accepting of their boundaries and show enormous creativity within them, which gives me quite a good feeling as a mother. Thanks for the article!

    1. Suchada, this sounds really great to me. Congratulations!

  9. avatar Stephanie says:

    as a caregiver, i’m always asked, “what do you do if a toddler misbehaves?” or, “how do you discipline 1- and 2-yr-olds?” i was always “taught” that “redirection” was the best, or the only, way to solve any issues with toddlers. after reading this, however, you have opened my eyes and i am so grateful for this new discovery of how to treat young children with RESPECT. a million times, thank you!!!

  10. Although I never studied RIE methods, this way of handling a child doing something I didn’t want them to be doing intuitively felt like the right type of reaction. I wholeheartedly believe that simply redirecting a child doesn’t give them any information about how they should behave in the future.

    Janet, I just love the way you put this information out there in such a clear way – thank you for all of your amazing posts!

  11. Janet –
    As always, a thoughtful and beautiful article. Being an instructor and trainer of the Redirecting Children’s Behavior (RCB) course, I would like to address the use of the word ‘redirection.’ In RCB our concepts are in alignment with yours and we recommend setting limits, offering choices with consequences (“You can draw on the paper or you can draw on the white board. If you continue to draw on the table, I will take the marker away”), and many more ‘redirects’ which are authentic and clear. The purpose of the redirect is to teach responsibility respectfully. ‘Redirect’ has unfortunately become synonymous with ‘distract’ which offers no opportunities for children to learn.

    Thanks for all of your beautiful posts!

    Wishing you well –
    Maggie Macaulay, MS Ed
    http://www.WholeHeartedParenting.com

    1. Wow, Maggie, I really appreciate your openness and thoughtful response. You make me sorry that the “distraction” definition of redirection is so widely observed, because I think your view of redirection is quite healthy and respectful. Thank you for reading and commenting!

      1. I love what you write, Janet. Your articles have been mentioned in many issues of Parenting News, our weekly e-zine for parents and teachers. I hope that guided new readers to your site.

        Most parents who take the RCB course end up commenting that RCB is about redirecting their own behavior! Instead of knee-jerk reactions to their children’s behavior, parents become aware of what they desire their children to learn from an experience and how to consciously guide them. It is great stuff!

  12. WOAH. Someone that gets it. Amazing post. I’m RTing it on twitter and sharing on facebook.

    I laugh at all the parents who are SO scared of disciplining their children that they will “distract and divert” as you say.

    Are we raising narcissists here or responsible, caring people?

    1. Sorry in advance…and please don’t take offense…
      I just had to comment that I find it a bit inappropriate and unproductive to “laugh at” parents who are afraid and uneducated. Respectfully suggesting articles perhaps? I’m sure many didn’t have a great childhood themselves, and simply don’t know any other way.

  13. What a great post: I love how you always include what TO do, not just what NOT to do. I only wish I’d known this 2 years ago… Since I’ve learned about RIE I’ve been trying it, and it works like a charm, even after a late start.

    My son is starting at a fantastic, play-based preschool in the fall, and my only regret about the place is that the teacher did talk about redirection. It’s a parent participation preschool though, so I’m hoping to bring up these techniques as an alternative. How do children respond if only one parent of several is using this technique? Will I be a freak, or some kind of empathetic wonder? 🙂

    1. Thanks, Jodie and everyone, for your kind words!

      Jodie, in my experience you’ll be the parent that the children are most attracted to and feel safest with because you are addressing their behavior and trying to understand it rather than being manipulative. You will be the one who takes them seriously. Children are very, very sensitive and intuitive in this regard. I used to have the neighbor children over to play with my kids when they were all 2 and 3 years old and I know that I was more direct than what they were used to. I worried that they would be turned-off and not want to come over, but I found that the opposite was true. I think it was because they trusted me and felt respected and understood…even though I wasn’t always “the good guy”.

      1. Janet, I agree 100%. Children can smell ‘fake’ a mile off and they can also smell ‘authentic’. I have been in the situation where the other carers at centres have started to resent me because the children favoured me- simply because they knew I would be real with them and show them respect as well as boundaries. For example I was never scared of telling my preschool class when they’d made me angry, but I would always explain WHY I was angry straight away by calling them into a group and role-playing with puppets before applying the lesson to real life… and after we’d talked, I would say ‘can I take my angry face off now? I don’t like wearing it’ and they would all laugh and recognise that the incident was OVER.

        So Jodie, I second that view- go with your heart without fear, and the children will vote with their feet.

  14. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    I agree with everything you said here. Redirection and being phoney is something I’ve never liked but I didn’t have the explanation as to why. Just my instincts about the fact that I’d rather my son deal with his emotions instead of just being taught to ignore them by being redirected (like when he was having a meltdown about something).

  15. Well, I agree to a point. There have been some phases in my son’s short life where talking to him got me nowhere. Nowhere, I tell ya! 😉 It became frustrating for both of us. I’m a firm believer in explaining and teaching appropriate behavior, but sheesh, he just would.not.hear of it at times. So I began to remove him from the situation and distract him with something else during times when I felt he wasn’t receptive. During times of evenness, I did talk to him about what he did wrong and so forth. We’re finally coming out of that phase. He’ll be 3 in a few weeks. 😀

    In general, I totally agree, but I do think that if a parent uses distraction that it’s not necessarily a sign of laziness or anything negative. Now, what you described in your article was *way* extreme and I can’t imagine that actually happening. For a parent to not say, “Whoa! I can’t let you write on the sofa… here’s some paper instead…” I don’t know, sometimes when a parenting method is discussed and dissected, the “extremes” tend to find their way in.

    1. Thank you, Miss Tea! I just want to make it clear that I’m not suggesting detailed explanations or a lot of talk about unwanted behaviors with infants and toddlers. I’m suggesting stopping the behavior and giving a very brief verbal response that is real and honest. Then, the child can express his feelings and we can all move on. Long explanations, reasoning and preaching can “load” the situation too much — make it too interesting. Also, removing a child from a situation in which he’s misbehaving sounds perfect to me. “You are hitting other children, maybe because you’re tired. We are going home.” That is the truth, and not the same as redirecting or distracting him, in my opinion.

  16. I thought I was using redirection, but the way you describe it, I guess I don’t. I tend to “redirect” AFTER I have been clear about the limit and validated my son’s experience. I think it’s a subtle difference that makes all the difference in the world! Ever since I started using this approach, my son has been able to deal well with the limits I’ve set. He doesn’t have the emotional fallout that typical redirection tries to prevent. He seems to get it and is ready for the next activity. Of course, sometimes he does fall apart — although it’s usually not just because of the limit I’ve set, it’s because he’s more sensitive due to teething, tiredness, missing someone, etc. We’re working on getting through those times together.

  17. Janet, it’s been awhile since I visited the blog (I’ve been social media seclusion between professional responsibilities and parenting a toddler and newborn) and this made me remember how much I’ve missed it. Your advice is pretty much the only kind that feels right for me and my son, who is as “aware” as they come, and has been practically since birth! I think I tried to redirect a few times after reading articles like the ones you mentioned, and he looked at me like I was a moron. I’ve found that dealing with the situation head-on works better, but I’ve also wondered if I was delusional to try and reason with a toddler. This post helped me organize my thought process and get a handle on how to deal with the inevitable struggles… thank you!

    1. It’s so great to hear from you, and congratulations on your new baby! Thank you for your comment. I do want to clarify that this isn’t really about reasoning with a toddler (and certainly not about having long discussions) as much as just being truthful. I love the conversations this post has stimulated on a couple of Facebook pages (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Positive-Parenting-Toddlers-and-Beyond/139782679378764). Some of the criticisms are about the inappropriateness of reasoning with toddlers…because their brains are not ready, etc. I always want to ask (and I think I will tomorrow, because I’m curious) when they believe that a child is ready for an honest relationship — at what age — because I believe our babies are ready to begin a real relationship with us at birth. In fact, I’m certain they are.

      1. Oh, sorry – I didn’t mean to imply that you were advocating reasoning with a toddler in the literal sense! I just meant that sometimes speaking honestly SOUNDS to my ears like I am trying to reason with him – even though it’s not really that at all. Does that make sense?

        1. Yes, totally. And thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify that I’m suggesting direct and honest responses that are as brief as possible. Lecturing, scolding, discussing or otherwise giving the action too much attention in the moment encourages the child to repeat it.

      2. Hear hear, Janet. And I’ll say it again- generalising by age is often not useful. You have to know your child. My boy, a gifted child, got honesty from day one and at 26 he still thanks me for it.

  18. I suppose I don’t redirect (by this use of the term), but in the circles in which I run, this is called “redirection.”

    This process works, though. It just requires more effort.

  19. To be totally honest, this is not how I interpreted re-directing. I took it like the above examples…explaining that they cant do what they are doing and then show them what they can do. Like saying “Mommy doesnt want you drawing on the couch, but you can draw on this paper instead”. To me that is redirecting. The idea of just distracting from the current situation seems totally ridiculous to me, it just never occurred to me. 🙂 I totally agree with everything written here!

  20. This is great Janet, I really like it. I agree with what you’ve explained so well in this post. Beforee when we touched on this, I thought you were suggesting that it’s not good to set the limit, then offer a choice, I thought you were suggesting just stay with the limit, but don’t offer a choice, which I couldn’t understand. It seems we’re on the same page with this issue and I really appreciate you describing it so well as it’s often a difficult one to get across.

    I find that a lot of parents who are committed to parenting using attachment principles have a big aversion to saying no to their child and believe that anything that helps you avoid setting a limit is good for the child’s wellbeing, but the child misses out on learning healthy boundaries and is constantly dealing with the incongruence of seeing their mother’s displeasure, but being given happy chirpy verbal messages.

    I always appreciate your writing Janet, you have a gift for explaining these subtle, but hugely important concepts. i’ll definitely share this with my facebook page in the next day. Thanks 🙂

    1. Thanks, Genevieve! I appreciate you pointing out the “incongruence of seeing their mother’s displeasure, but being given happy chirpy verbal messages.” That is a big one, not only because it is confusing for infants and toddlers when our outsides aren’t matching our insides (and children know it), but also because we are more inclined to lose it and explode when we’ve put so much energy into avoiding conflict.

  21. avatar ParentingBeyondPunishment says:

    This is a great article on many levels: the empathetic responses are vital to helping our children develop emotional intelligence. And the focus on setting limits and using teachable moments is an integral part of true parenting (and can help us avoid the pitfalls of disrespectful yelling and punishment). My only red flag went up when I read under “No guidance…Infants and toddlers need us to help them understand the house rules, and eventually internalize our expectations and values.” While I agree they need to develop an understanding of house rules, I do not want my child to internalize my values. Rather, I want to encourage her own moral development so that her moral reasoning is truly internalized. Thanks so much for this article.

    1. Thank you, I like your correction and rephrasing!

  22. Great stuff, as always. I haven’t ever thought that redirection was a very honest approach to raising my daughters, but have more often than not been in the minority with other parents when discussing it. Parenting, though, is not supposed to be the path of least resistance.

  23. I totally agree with this, but personally I also like to distract from time to time, just so it doesn’t seem like i’m always on his back 🙂 Great article though.. By the way I also have read a great book called ‘loving your children on purpose’ which reinforces what you’re saying. It is a written by a christian and so has a lot of christian content, but even if you’re not a christian and you can put the christian stuff to one side it has a lot of very good principles. Great article… thanks 🙂

  24. avatar Alexandria says:

    My son has already learned some boundaries without my distracting him, since he was 10 months old. For instance, whenever someone gets presents, we let him play with the tissue paper. Our rule: rip it, shake it, wave it, but don’t eat it. I don’t take/hide all the paper if he tries to eat it; I just prevent him from eating it and remind him that he can rip /shake /wave it, but not eat it. Now he’ll start to move it toward his mouth, then look at me and smile, and instead wave / shake / rip it. It would be easier to just not let him play with paper at all, but I think he’s learning that he can play within reasonable boundaries and that he can respect our rules.

  25. I really appreciate your post, Janet, and the comments trying to clarify the topic. Problems arise with terms becoming jargon/buzz words from overuse. Words such as “redirection” come under scrutiny as different definitions fly out there. The primary text book in the field, Janet Gonzalez-Mena’s “Infants, Toddlers and and Caregivers” (dedicated with each edition to Magda Gerber) defines the “strategy called redirection…[when] you redirect the child from what he shouldn’t be doing to something similar that is okay to do.” It’s definitely not fun, as one reply said, to have it seem like you’re always on your toddler’s back with frequent limit setting interactions. Prevention is key, so setting an environment appropriate to the child’s stage/age will be a boon. Have your toddler(s) exploring and discovering as much as possible in “no”-free zones so you know safety is not compromised from an environmental perspective. Then you can focus on the social-emotional aspect of guiding pro-social skills when needed, which is a big enough responsibility in itself! Note that the book’s author goes on to clearly explain the difference between redirection and distraction: “Distraction is often used to keep a child from feeling emotion, while redirection is more about using the energy in an acceptable rather than an unacceptable way. Distraction is manipulative in a way that redirection is not.” She offers advice: “If you remain calm and gently persistent, you won’t be as apt to trigger rebellion as you would if you issue sharp warnings or commands.” (p. 295-6 This is “the way to preserve their good feelings about themselves as well as their sense of power” and autonomy that toddlers definitely are all about!

    1. Liz, thank you so much for adding this pertinent and helpful information, especially about setting up “NO”-free zones so that babies can experience safe uninterrupted play as often as possible. Safe play spaces for infants and toddlers are a godsend and yet parents seem to underestimate their value (or even perceive them as prisons!). I’m going to have to write about play spaces again soon.

      Yes, there seem to be a variety of definitions for “redirect.” I’m discovering through the comments about this post (here and elsewhere) that many define it as offering an acceptable alternative rather than focusing on the negative, which I totally agree with… The example I based this post on was given to me by a recent commenter on another post, Talking To Toddlers , and it is what inspired me to write. Here it is: Great suggestions! Redirection works wonders, too. So instead of just saying “Don’t draw on the sofa!”, say “Can you draw me a silly face on this piece of paper?”.

      All in all, I’m thrilled to be having these kinds of conversations…so thank you, Liz, and everyone!

  26. avatar Francine Sanchez says:

    I came over to your blog from a link someone posted on Facebook.

    I feel so conflicted reading your post because I love redirection for toddlers, yet noticed many grains of wisdom in your article.

    I have worked with children with developmental delays for the last five years and am in the process of becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. I use redirection very often with toddlers, as well as other techniques.

    Redirection can be restated as ignoring a negative behavior and reinforcing a positive behavior. In the example regarding drawing on the sofa, the parent who is redirecting is giving no attention for drawing on the sofa and much more for drawing on the paper. When the child draws a silly face on the paper he/she gets a social experience with the parent and positive praise. Perhaps they laugh at the silly face together. What did he/she get for drawing on the sofa – nothing at all. What would motivate him to draw on the sofa again? In the best case scenario the parent would say something such as: “I love it when you draw on paper, it keeps everything nice and clean!” This is most certainly a teaching moment. It is not insulting the child’s intelligence. This is how we all learn, through reinforcement. Reinforcement has been shown to generalize better (to different settings and people) and be more effective in long term behavior change than punishment.

    I am all for setting boundaries and agree with a lot of the statements you made in the above article regarding respecting emotions, yet do not think redirection opposes boundary setting. I prefer to set boundaries before starting an activity instead of waiting for the child to do something incorrectly. I definitely think it is ok and sometimes best to blatantly tell a toddler what he/she is doing incorrectly. But, I don’t agree with the premise of the article – which is disapproval towards the practice of redirection. I think you are overlooking a very important part of the learning process.

    When working with toddlers especially, you are almost insulting their intelligence by telling them what they did was wrong (at times). At toddler age, kiddos are testing boundaries. Many times (not all) when they are breaking the rules, they are very aware what they are doing is not ok. There is no reason to tell them they are breaking a rule or give any attention for that behavior. It is not only a waste of breath, but often feeding into the function of the behavior (attention) or distracting from the true teachable moment (throwing a toy will not allow me to escape clean up time). Consequences speak so much more loudly than words and reinforcement of alternatives is a powerful consequence.

    Any ways, I could go on quite a bit and apologize if my comment is poorly structured. I appreciate so much your interest in the well being of children. Hopefully, my comment will help you rethink your criticism for parents who use redirection and will widen your mind regarding effective discipline for toddler aged children.

    1. Thank you, Francine, for your thoughtful comment. I wholeheartedly agree with much of what you say, especially:

      “At toddler age, kiddos are testing boundaries. Many times (not all) when they are breaking the rules, they are very aware what they are doing is not ok.”

      I think this is really important to understand and easily lost on parents. There is a lot of talk amongst parents about these unwanted behaviors being indicators of “unmet needs,” and the parent is supposed to figure out the need and then find a way to fulfill it (which is, first of all, a lot of mindwork to ask of a parent in a moment of misbehavior!). I agree that there are unmet needs, but in that moment I believe the child’s primary need is to get a brief but clear response from the parent or caregiver — not a focus of attention or a lot of dialogue, but some acknowledgement (given calmly and matter-of-factly) to show that we have noticed the child’s red flag, so that the child doesn’t have to wave it again and again (or find a bigger one). It’s not talking about “what you did wrong”, it’s about letting the child know that we will stop her (kindly) when she is, I truly believe, hoping and needing to be stopped. I believe that’s a big part of giving children the sense of security they need — letting them know that we care enough to notice and to stop them from doing those things.

      Yes, there are some instances when it’s best to be so brief that we almost entirely ignore the behavior, but that is not the same to me as distracting a child by directing her to a very specific activity chosen by us. Doing that underestimates the child and, in my opinion, reinforces nothing except that the child is incapable. I see unwanted behaviors as kind of communication and I believe we should respond.

  27. Excellent, a very worthy subject.

    My pet-peeve on redirection is when children are arguing for any reason (usually a toy). It really is nothing but a quick fix for the parent’s benefit.

    I DO understand occasional redirection, sometimes you need to consider your sanity rather than take every single moment in the day as an opportunity for your child. I think it’s worth saying that because us mama’s are too good at the self-guilt.

  28. Oh I absolutely agree with this. I used to work as a instructor therapist for children on the Autism spectrum, one of our main ‘tools’ was distraction. Distraction may work well and save our face as the good guy and allow us to keep the child on task with OUR agenda i.e. continue with our lesson, however it does avoid REAL life learning opportunities that will benefit them for life in the world as an autonomous individual. I am SO glad you posted this topic Janet. I am also struggling with how to approach this topic with family members who seem to feel that any conflict with my 2.5 year old daughter is poor parenting. My daughter is very spirited and loves to test boundaries lately. I often feel the scorn from other grown relatives when I simply say something like “this is mommys phone, It’s breakable, please don’t touch” – when i’m met with my daughters resistance I try to calmly state that I’m going to place it up high so it’s out of her reach, them like you said, after she has expressed her displeasure I state that I see she is upset that I have removed the object she wanted and say I know it’s hard when mommy says no ( or something to that effect) _ what I find so upsetting is that some relatives will chim in and say ” 0h I don’t mind if she plays with my phone – and they offer theirs instead” – this happens in many situation when we visit, and I would love advice on how not to take this personally and how to explain (if needed??) why I do what I do???

    1. Teresa, thank you for your input! Regarding your relatives, I definitely wouldn’t take their behavior personally. I make it a point not to take differing opinions about child care personally. I’ve learned from my own experience and working with parents for 16 years that child care is a very sensitive and heated issue for many people. My best advice is to let go with the relatives around (unless it’s something that is seriously harmful or disturbing for your child) and know that you and your husband are the people who have the most influence on your daughter.

      1. Thank you Janet, I really value your perspective and advice. I have learned so much from RIE parenting in the last few months. My parenting is a work in progress that is both revealing and rewarding. Thank you for being available for discussion!

        1. Teresa, you’re so welcome and thank you for the discussion. Parenting is a work is progress for me, too, and continues to be revealing and rewarding!

  29. With small children and babies I’ve seen redirection be successful when the alternative is that everything is “no”. Let’s be honest – don’t grab kitty’s tale, don’t touch the remote, don’t chew on mommy’s phone, don’t go near the fireplace, …there are a lot of things that kids have to grow into being able to handle. I spend a lot of time showing my son how many fun things he CAN do by redirection. I’ve seen other people constantly telling their children no and it becomes meaningless when it is truly necessary – for instance when there’s a danger to the situation or action.

  30. Amanda, I find myself wanting to distract so as to avoid saying ‘no’ as well. I find that keeping the statement primarily positive i.e “markers are for coloring on paper”… instead of “No! we don’t color on the couch” is more effective. Saying this before my daughter has touched the couch with the marker is important.

    I find that these situations often happen when the environment is rich with non toddler proofed things to do, i.e at grandmas house where there are markers or paint left out at her level. However you can’t and I don’t believe one should sanitize our children’s environment completely of objects that may entice what we see as inappropriate behavior. When we are at other’s homes it may be impossible or rude to run around child proofing. It is just as important for our children that there are learning opportunities surrounding boundaries and limitations (I agree Janet) that this does give them a sense of security. Always opting to please our children or avoid being the ‘bad guy‘ robs them of the safety of being a child. It is part of our job as parents to be strong enough to set limits and boundaries. This parenting job builds character doesn’t it??!!

    Francine, I completely relate to your conflicted feelings regarding what we know from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and what RIE offers. Ignoring the unwanted behavior of mucking up the couch and distracting the child to a more positive behavior such as placing a piece of paper under the marker and reinforcing the neat coloring instead is tempting with our own kids and appropriate when we are working with clients. But even if the function of the behavior was attention why is distraction/ignoring the optimal choice? Yes extinguishing inappropriate behavior through punishment does not generalize across stimuli and we may see an extinction burst of unwanted behavior.

    Janet, I believe we can offer guidance coupled with redirection and be effective while holding our integrity and our childs needs at heart . Why not deal with the challenge at hand directly by saying the positive “ we color on paper, not on the couch” place the paper there and draw that smiley face etc? If there is need for attention then we can give them opportunities to engage appropriately while maintaining the activity of their choice following their MO (motivation). If there is movement to color on the couch again one could physically move to block the couch from being colored on without touching the child or grabbing the marker, if there is a meltdown calmly and gently remove the marker and say again “markers are for coloring on paper”, acknowledge the childs feelings of upset briefly with few words. Reflection on the actual function of the behavior might be necessary, or look at our own actions/motivation. Did we force an activity that wasn’t motivational?? Perhaps they didn’t want attention but enjoyed the proprioceptive feedback of running the marker over the bumpy fibers of the couch instead of the paper? Could we not have offered sandpaper under a piece of paper and at the same time conveyed the message that the couch is not for coloring on? Perhaps redirection is not always cajoling? Francine has a good point regarding identifying the function of the behavior Janet. Yes it’s a tall order to assess a toddlers MO when we see our couch being re-painted in red and want to stop the behavior immediately but if we want to find a balance between simply saying what is not appropriate, period, and increasing appropriate behavior, knowing WHY the child does what she does IS important don’t you think? Francine is correct regarding the science of learning. reinforcement vs punishment is more effective in generalization. This goes a long way when we want to encourage autonomy, we want our child to know what’s appropriate when we aren’t there with them, now and in the future.

  31. I think there needs to be a balance. While I don’t like to use only redirection, I think that times like this is a good opportunity to teach problem solving. For example, after letting them deal with the fact that they can’t draw on the couch, working with them to find something that they can use markers on. “We can’t draw on the couch, but is there something else we can draw on?” This gives *them* the opportunity to make their own decisions about what they do next, whether it be find a coloring book or piece of paper, or choosing to do something else altogether (“if I can’t draw on the couch, I’m not going to draw at all!”).

  32. Although I agree with what your main point is, I learned and teach a very different version of redirection then what you are referring to, much like what Megan said. Within my community of teachers/educators, redirection is used differently than what you describe. I’m wondering why your definition is so different…? Regardless of the word, what you have described as appropriate and otherwise is very correct, in my opinion.

  33. avatar Alexandra says:

    Love this article. So clear and articulate. Often it seems to me that parents utilize distraction because they are uncomfortable with children being uncomfortable, and don’t see that children can tolerate and work through frustration. Both in learning and mastering new skills individually as well as in conflict with peers. Thanks for spelling it out so clearly.

    1. Thank you, Alexandra. I’m uncomfortable with children being uncomfortable! I just know how healthy it is for children to experience age-appropriate discomfort so that they know that these uncomfortable moments in life pass and become comfort again… And this sort of “comfort with discomfort” is the key to resilience, self-confidence, learning and a truly happy life, don’t you think?

  34. Hi Janet – thanks so much for this article! I have never agreed with redirection, but could never place or explain exactly why. I just knew it didn’t feel right basically hiding from a child that something isn’t okay rather than simply telling them a behavior will not be tolerated. Thanks for putting it into words I can share with others!

  35. I’m late to the party here but have to say that redirection in my house (sans any formal parenting training) has always included a brief statement of what is not ok, and some time with a parent when that produces tears. But I’m not seeing the harm in my also suggesting an alternate activity; often without my doing so my stubborn just-3-yo son will want to go back to whatever caused the issue in the first place. I can say no all day and wind up annoyed, or I can help him find something else to do…which usually leads to free play. That’s distraction. Am I misunderstanding you that somehow that’s not ok?

    1. Frances, giving a child some other options when he’s stuck sounds fine to me, and I don’t equate that with distraction. You are confronting the situation honestly and respectfully. Sometimes there’s a safe and acceptable option for the particular activity (like drawing on paper instead of the sofa). If we’re going to suggest something entirely different, I prefer giving at least two choices…because that feels a little less directive to me.

  36. I thought I knew what redirection was, but I didn’t. We’ve been confronting the undesirable behavior and then offering another option as you mentioned. We agree that we would fail our girls if we didn’t help them understand boundaries.

  37. I don’t believe we should treat children as if they are adults. As many have pointed out above, their brains are not at the same point as ours and we shouldn’t expect them to respond the way an adult would. You have many valid points but I just don’t feel that throwing redirection out the window is a good idea. I have found many times that redirection works wonderfully for both the child and the adult.

    1. Amy, I agree about not treating children as if they adults, but I believe children deserve the same respect and honesty as adults. Children understand far more and are more capable than most adults realize. They sense distractions, manipulation, tricks, even the subtlest forms of dishonesty a mile away. When I hear comments about children’s brains being at a “different point” it makes me wonder — and I would seriously like to know — at what age we should begin to speak to a child directly and honestly. Is there a set age? In my experience, the kind of honestly that fosters the healthiest parent/child relationships is built into the relationship very early on.

  38. avatar Catherine says:

    I agree with you 100%. I read the books telling me to redirect and I always thought it felt phony, so I never did it.

  39. Janet,

    Sorry if this is off topic, but I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the book Happiest Toddler On The Block. It seems to me that Dr. Karp contradicts a lot of the advice that I’ve read on your site. For example, what do you think of mirroring a child’s language/emotion by using “toddlerese”? I tried it this morning when my son was battling the carseat and it actually seemed to distinguish his tantrum. It seemed really fake and forced to me though and I can’t imagine mimicking an adult in that way. Just curious what your thoughts are.

    1. Abbie, thanks for asking… That book is one of my pet peeves! I strongly disagree with Dr. Karp that we should “ape” our children’s brave attempts at language — speak to them as though they were “neanderthals” as he recommends. Our children’s understanding of language is very advanced and sophisticated by the time they begin talking, so they certainly know they are being talked down to. Perhaps it surprises them to hear us acting like idiots, so they stop tantruming. But honestly, I can’t think of anything less respectful or more manipulative and false. Your instincts are right on: “It seemed really fake and forced to me though and I can’t imagine mimicking an adult in that way.”

  40. Thank you! I always had similar intuitions, but couldn’t explain them.

  41. Children don’t need to hear what they can’t do. They hear that all day long. It’s tiresome. I can’t imagine my boss or husband standing there telling me the things I’ve done wrong, and never telling me what I should be doing instead.

    Children need to learn what to do instead of the behaviour that is not acceptable to the parent.

    Distraction is a whole different ball game and I believe that is what you take issue with. I can make arguments for and against it.

    1. I agree that children shouldn’t be hearing us tell them what they can’t do all day long…but I don’t believe we should be directing them, telling them what they can do all day long either. Do you? That’s why I recommend creating safe play areas for infants and toddlers where they can be inner-directed and uninterrupted.

  42. avatar Elly Gante says:

    I have never really felt comfortab le with redirection. But only to the point of saying, you are not allowed to draw on the table (a favourite of my little ‘artist’).
    But you can have paper, or I’ll take the pens away.
    This started when he was about 1. He was/ is very aware.
    He is now 2.5 years and is so switched on, he asks ‘why’ all the time, and understands when we explain how things work.
    We have an open fire, he knows he is not allowed to play near it , the other day he said to me ‘can I drive my car on it, when it’s not lighted’. He took it upon himself to think about when it was safe, and not. We simply do not give infants/ toddlers the credit they are due.
    They come to this world with instinct alone, intelligence can interfere with that.

  43. avatar lesismore says:

    i couldn’t read sit and read all the comments, but just in case someone hasn’t been mentioned already, i want to add/put out into the universe, the key ingredient to putting this into practice is patience (and often, time). as a preschool teacher, i find my most “successful” moments are when i let go of expectations revolving around schedule and give time to what needs time. if a child needs to spend 45 minutes in the bathroom changing because they want to do it themselves, each and every last button? great. seven children want to sit around a table meant for four and continue their work long past work time and into their outside time? sure. and two children want the same toy, each with a death grip and refusal to let go? i will stand there. i will “sportscast” and i will step in if it becomes an aggressive situation, but the best gift i can give these two fighting over one dump truck when there is another one right behind one of them, is the respect to let them work through it on their own. for me to give them time, a listening ear and space to solve it on their own is one of the things i think we can really feel good about as parents and educators. because instead of thinking about what a great job we did at solving a problem, we feel proud to be a part of seeing the children do it on their own and the accomplishment THEY got from being respected enough to do so. those are the moments i feel like i’m a better teacher.parent-when i hardly do anything at all except listen and give time.

    1. Leslie, that is a brilliant point and I’m so glad you took the time to share it. Often we believe that these kinds of situations must be sorted out quickly so that the children can go back to doing more important things like playing or learning. But THIS is where the learning is really happening, because these are the things our children are indicating that they want or need to work on. The little honest interactions between adult and child during a diaper change (even while the child is resisting and we are talking him through that), the conflicts between us or peers are as vitally important to a baby as are playing a game, reading a book, etc., if not more so. That is one of the great lessons Magda Gerber taught me.

  44. I really like this way of parenting so I decided to start straight away (my baby is now 6 months), if she was doing something that wasn’t safe or appropriate (such as trying to eat my phone), I would explain why she couldn’t and then gently take it away and offer her a chew toy instead… we are house sitting at the moment and there is an internet cable that runs across the floor that I can’t do anything about, she likes to pick it up, so each time she does, before she gets it in her mouth, one of us tells her why she cannot have it and say “ta mummy or daddy” and gently take it from her… now (just today) when she picks it up she looks at me, I say (from where I am sitting) “ta mummy” and she smiles and puts it down and moves on to something else! Can’t underestimate even a baby’s comprehension! Thanks for the article, I find all your articles extremely helpful and I share them with my friends when they have questions too 🙂

  45. Hi Janet. In your article, you use the words “redirection” and “redirecting” to mean “aiming a child to another activity rather than confronting an issue directly and setting a limit.” You also say that “Redirecting is cajoling, distraction and trickery that underestimates a toddler’s intelligence.”

    Like you’ve already stated in an earlier comment, the word “redirection” is open for misinterpretation, but as a member of the International Network for Children and Families (incaf.com), a writer for Peaceinyourhome.com, and a certified Redirecting Children’s Behavior instructor, I feel a responsibility to clarify a few things about what “redirection” can mean in other parenting circles.

    Redirecting Children’s Behavior is NOT about distraction. Not at all. Kathryn Kvols, the author of the book by the same name writes in the forward, “Redirecting Children’s Behavior is a form of discipline that helps parents raise children in a peaceful and respectful way; it is firm and kind. Its goal is for the child to assume responsibility for his or her actions and to become motivated from within rather than by external circumstances or events. The redirection principle defines discipline as guidance and teaching, with an emphasis on mutual respect.” No cajoling or trickery or distraction involved.

    The word redirection simply means to direct someone or something to a different place or by a different route. When we teach kids more effective ways to express their emotions and to ask for what they want, we are redirecting them.

    Aside from the use of the word “redirection,” the suggestions you have given on how to handle a toddlers are totally in line with (and in fact are tenets of) Redirecting Children’s Behavior: Breathe first; remain calm, kind, empathic, but firm; acknowledge feelings and points of view.

    All in all, a great article on respectful parenting, but I really did feel the need to clarify that redirecting and redirection are not the same as distracting and distraction. Thanks for the opportunity to tell you what I think about redirecting!

    I think Redirecting Children’s Behavior is a beautiful thing.

    1. Pam, thank you so much for this respectful redirection about redirection! Yes, some of the other wonderful commenters also corrected me on the term’s meaning…and I wholeheartedly agree with your approach. I wish everyone defined ‘redirection’ as you do. This post was inspired by a commenter on another post who used the term to describe a behavior that was very obviously a distraction…and I’ve found that others see “redirection” as distraction as well.

  46. avatar Jayadeep Purushothaman says:

    May be you picked a wrong example – writing on a sofa and walls is IMO, a very creative thing that toddlers want to do and should not be prevented from doing. That “discipline” may curtail creativity of the child very early in life. It makes them good writers or painters later in life! But I agree with you on the redirection technique.

  47. Just thought I’d point out redirection is ok when its used in conjunction with explaining that the current activity is inapporpriate, in fact it is really positive in some cases (eg. when child is misbehaving due to boredom).

    So toddler is drawing on the sofa, caregiver says “its not ok to draw there, here have some paper, lets draw together?” or child is fiddling (and damaging) with property that isn’t there “X, is it ok to play with that?” (no) “so lets put it back carefully and stop damaging it, and find something good to do?” sorted. A lot of negative behaviours are due to inapporpriate utensils being left around, boredom or simply lack of parental attention. Best bet in my opinion is to explain that its not okay to play in that way, and then provide a better activity, preferably one you can do together so the child gains positive attention for participating in a positive activity.

  48. I see some wisdom in what the article says, but I also think it is key to know how long or involved the explanation can be for the child to benefit from it. We also must be respectful to our child’s developmental stages. I’ve seen many a mom overexplain (in my opinion) to their toddlers who are in NO WAY getting most of what they’re saying. I’m sure it’s making the mom feel all “authentic” but it’s escalating the frustration of the toddler who really just wants to move on. Most toddlers I know are very “in the moment.” A brief explantion of a few words followed by redirecting in a way that’s not just tricking or completely shifting what they’re doing to something totally unrelated is best, I’ve found. Moving them on to something else quickly and not dwelling on what just occurred is in no way being inauthentic. I believe it’s being respectful to the way in which children at this age learn without constantly placing “right” and “wrong” judgments on their curiosity and exploration.

    1. Thanks for this, Rebecca. As I’ve clarified in previous comments, I’m certainly not advocating long explanations and I do not believe in giving lectures, especially not in the moment. Those give far too much attention to the behavior and make it a more interesting thing to do. I agree that toddlers need to feel free to move on. I recommend just a few direct and honest words and, when possible, a suggestion for a way the child can play out the behavior appropriately. This is human to human respect.

      1. Ok — that makes sense. I think there may be some disagreement about what constitutes “redirection.” I believe I read another comment in which someone distinguished between distraction and “redirection.” I definitely agree that distracting is not respectful to a child’s intelligence or to the learning process. My version of “redirection” is not that at all — it’s really just moving on to something else. Thanks for the article! I appreciate the dialogue and always learn from it.

  49. In the second year of life, the child’s brain goes through a huge boost in memory and language development. That’s when, “I know you’re upset and want candy, but where are your shoes?” won’t work anymore.

    But before then, this silly technique can make everyone’s day flow a little better, when used occasionally.

    When redirection becomes disrespect, of course it has a negative impact. But the conscious parent weighs options, situations, and the unique child they have in front of them. And sometimes, redirection is the answer 🙂

    1. Dr. Heather, I disagree. Respecting children isn’t being respectful and honest sometimes when it’s convenient for us, but tricking them because that might “work” at other times. We either perceive children as whole people and treat them as such, or we don’t. The sooner we respect the better, meaning ideally at birth… This is what every post I’ve written is about and I could begin and end this blog right there. Really, there is nothing else that matters. Once we understand what it means to treat babies and children of all ages respectfully, our parenting path is clear.

  50. oh thank you Janet! I have practiced this way of loving the toddlers I teach for years…and have been told that i am mean many times…but to say that they do not comprehend what we are saying is not completely accurate. They may not understand the words but using this way of approaching them builds ultimately to internal regulation, they come to understand that much of life is about choices and limits. As with any approach consistancy and repeating is the only way to teach it. The children learn to trust that they are in a safe and nurturing enviornment where they are safe to explore and grow with the support of adults who care enough to “teach” the behaviors that will be needed in their lives. Thank you for sharing this and so clearly giving the reasons why it should be practiced!

    1. Kimberly, thank you for sharing your experience… And I agree that children comprehend way more than they are given credit for…especially if we talk to them openly and respectfully! They understand what they have been exposed to. This is lost on many people.

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