Strategies for Redirecting Child Behavior

Training and teaching children is one of the main jobs of parents. As children experiment and learn, they will make mistakes and engage in behaviors that need discouragement from you. An effective way to teach young children the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior is redirection. Redirection focuses on the desired behavior by helping your child forget about the undesired behavior.

Distracting for Cooperation

Children may not always want to come along willingly or cooperate with you when you urge them to do something. For example, when it’s time to put away toys or get ready for bed, you may hear loud complaints as your child doesn’t want to comply. When this happens, instead of engaging in a negative power struggle, use distraction to pull your child’s attention away from his current activities to what you want him to do. The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service recommends suggesting a short interim activity to distract your child and act as a bridge activity toward the desired activity 1. For example, suggesting "it's time for our bedtime story" when you want him to exit the bathtub before bed.

Acceptable Alternatives

Sometimes a small child gets ideas for activities that sound entertaining and thrilling to her, yet will result in unsafe conditions or damage to property. Cutting up the curtains or drawing on your tile floor with a permanent marker might sound like the perfect pastime to her, but you need to act quickly to prevent damage. In this situation, resist the urge to scold or act negatively as you correct your child. Scoop her up and redirect her to enjoying similar art experiences by cutting or drawing pictures on paper instead. In this way, you are showing her an acceptable alternative with positive rather than negative methods.

Change Environments

Taking your child’s hand and physically moving him away from the place where he is engaging in misbehavior can be an effective way to redirect him, according to the University of Michigan 2. For example, if your child is having trouble getting along with others in the family room, you might take his hand and walk with him into another room to engage in solitary play. If your child is becoming frustrated with a toy and is losing his temper, try walking outside and swinging or playing with the dog to diffuse the situation and help him regroup.

Keep it Positive

The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service asserts that the beauty of redirection is that it transforms negative behavior into positive behavior for your child 1. Resist the urge to act impatiently or to scold your child, instead focus on the opportunity to positively show your child how you want her to act or what you want her to do.

Cautions About Redirection

The British Columbia Ministry of Health offers a warning to parents about redirection. While redirection and distraction can be a positive discipline strategy for toddlers and young preschoolers, it may discourage older children from using their problem solving skills. Additionally, the act of redirecting your child away from undesired behavior places responsibility for resolving the issue on the parent instead of the child. As your child gets older, she will need to learn these skills of self-regulation and problem solving to use them independently.