Last time, in Part 2, we explored the idea of Natural Consequences, which can help kids learn through experiencing the results of their own actions.
Today we’ll look at another great alternative to Time Out: Redirection.
Redirection: An Effective Discipline Technique
Redirection is a discipline technique that stops unwanted behaviors while being easy to use and often conflict free. The basic idea is to help a child change from an unsafe activity to a safe one, while still honoring the child’s original idea.
Let’s say that your toddler is throwing blocks. First, ask her to stop, gently helping her if necessary. Then say something like, “It looks like you want to practice your throwing. Feel how heavy and hard the blocks are? They could hurt someone. You can throw this stuffed animal instead.”
A lot is going on here. Safety is ensured by stopping the block chucking. Your toddler is getting some important information about why we don’t throw blocks. She is learning what she can throw which will (eventually) help her avoid block throwing all together, and she’s likely to be agreeable about this because she still gets to work on her developmental goal of throwing.
It sounds so simple – and sometimes it really is! A child may need to be redirected many times before the lesson is learned for good, but you’ll notice that the more consistent you are with Redirection the less often the challenging behavior will show up.
However, kids can be much more complicated than in the example above. When it’s not so clear cut, how do we use Redirection effectively?
Find the Positive Intention
For Redirection to work it’s magic, you need to figure out the idea behind the behavior you want to change. With the knowledge of what your child wants to achieve in hand, you can help her find a safe way to reach her goal.
What in the world could be positive about breaking the rules, you ask?
Behind every behavior (yes, even the challenging ones) is a positive intention. When a child snatches a toy from a playmate, screams to get your attention or flings her food across the room she is trying to get her needs met. In other words, she thinks she will get something good from behaving that way.
While we can’t allow these behaviors to continue, we can keep the positive intention behind them in mind when choosing a discipline technique. This is essential for Redirection.
So, how do we find the positive intention?
The answer lies in observation. Notice, for example, when your toddler tries to bite. Is it when he’s hungry? What happens right before he tries to bite? Is he mad? Is he wanting your attention? Perhaps the behavior comes and goes with teething? Behavioral patterns can clue you in.
Sometimes, older children are willing to share their intentions with you. Asking in a kind and calm way is key here. If your child feels he might get into trouble, he’ll be less likely to share his thoughts with you.
Any behavior that occurs over and over is happening for a reason. If you can find the pattern in the behavior, you can figure out how to stop it. ~Jarrod Green
Let’s look at a real life example. Some years ago, I cared for a 3-year-old boy who we’ll call Diego. One day Diego started grabbing toys from some of the other kids at day care. I tried to help him negotiate, wait his turn or find something else to play with. Nothing worked. The behavior quickly became a habit.
I kept a close eye on him for a while and looked for patterns. When did he grab toys? Was it a specific toy? Was in at a particular time of day? Did anything consistent happen beforehand? Meanwhile, I did damage control the best I could and tried to prevent him from grabbing toys in the first place.
Then one day I noticed a group of boys playing in the yard and little Diego standing about 10 feet away, looking longing at them. I squatted next to him and said, “It looks like you really want to play.” He simply nodded.
I realized that Diego had been wanting to play with that group of boys all along. He knew that grabbing toys would get some attention, so he went with that. Unfortunately, it wasn’t getting him the kind of attention he really wanted from the kids (or from me).
Having finally discovered the positive intention behind the toy grabbing, I was able to offer him some alternatives. In then end, Diego started bringing a toy that he thought would add to the game with him when he wanted to play. The grabbing stopped, and he accomplished his goal – to make friends and getting into the game.
Not only did the behavior change, Diego learned some important social skills that will serve him well through life.
In this case, it was a lot more complicated than, “Here, throw this stuffed animal instead of the blocks.” It took time and effort to figure out what Diego was really after.
When we redirect children, we help them find an alternative way to express their impulses and lay the groundwork for them someday being able to choose those ways on their own. ~Davis & Keyser (affiliate link)
If I had put Diego on Time Out each time he grabbed a toy, he may have stopped the behavior more quickly, but I’m willing to bet that another challenging behavior with the same positive intention behind it would have popped up. Spending a little time to help him solve his problem served everyone well in the long run.
Wait… What Was I Doing?
Redirection is often confused with Distraction. Distraction can be very useful for babies and toddlers who you just need to behave for a few minutes. It can really work in the moment, but it lacks the positive long term effects of Redirection.
Say your toddler is throwing blocks again, this time in the waiting room of the pediatricians office. She continues occasionally chucking a block across the room despite your efforts to engage her in building something with you.
Based on your observations at home you’re pretty sure she is just exploring the act of throwing. Hum…. no scarves or soft toys to redirect to. Asking her to stop playing with the blocks could lead to a tantrum…
Hey, what’s that over there? Look at those cool puzzles! Let’s choose one to do together!
Doctor’s office scream-fest averted. Safety ensured. Success! So, what’s the difference between what just happened and Redirection?
Remember that with Redirection, the child’s positive intention is honored. If you were to Redirect your little block chucker, she would need to end up with something to throw. Since that wasn’t an option, distracting her with puzzles will have to do. You’ll likely have plenty of chances to use Redirection and reap all those long term benefits later on.
It can be tempting to use Distraction all of the time because it’s often quicker and easier than Redirection in the moment. You can bet that I use my fair share of Distraction when I’m exhausted or don’t want to cause a public scene.
The key is, I’m aware of exactly what I’m doing. I remind myself that while Distraction is a useful tool, the more often I use Redirection instead of Distraction, the sooner Baby B will move past a challenging behavior for good.
4 Steps to Redirection
Ready to try out Redirection with your little one? Follow these steps to make sure you’re child get’s the most out of you efforts. Bonus points if you can guess what challenging behavior we’re dealing with at my house right now.
- Ensure safety. Make sure the projectiles are grounded, gently stop kids from hitting, etc. Let kids know verbally what you are doing. “I’m going to help you stop pulling the cat’s tail.”
- State the Positive Intention (or your best guess). “It looks like you’d like to play with the cat.”
- Give information. “If you pull the cat’s tail it will hurt her and she might scratch you.”
- Redirect. “Let’s pet the cat gently, like this.”
When you use these steps to Redirection, you will be setting clear limits for your child, giving him valuable information and helping him find a safe way to explore his idea.
Sometimes it will be simple. Sometimes it will take some time and effort. Remember, a little effort now will serve you and your child well in the long run!
Next time, we’ll look at another useful discipline technique: Logical Consequences.