How to Effectively Use Redirection to Discipline Your Child

Use redirection to direct your child to more appropriate activities.
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Redirection is a positive discipline technique that can encourage better behavior from your child. It’s especially effective during the toddler years, before children have a clear understanding of consequences.

Redirection isn’t meant to stifle your child’s curiosity. Instead, it should teach her appropriate activities that can satisfy her need for exploration.  

Verbal Redirection

Verbal redirection involves telling your child what she can do instead of her current activity.

When you catch her doing something unacceptable, give her an appropriate alternative. Here are a few examples:

  • “Crayons are for coloring on paper, not the chair. Here are some coloring pages you can use.”
  • “You like to type on computers. Let’s get your play computer for you to type on while I use the big computer.”
  • “Use your walking feet indoors. If you run you could get your hurt.”
  • "Looks like you want to bang things on the floor. Bang this pillow instead of the plate."

Verbal redirection shouldn’t include threats or scolding. It may involve distracting your child, offering a safer alternative, or suggesting a new activity.

Physical Redirection

Physical redirection involves a verbal redirection along with a nurturing tough. For example, you may need to guide your child’s hand to help her put a breakable object down safely. Or, you may need to escort her away from unsafe activity. Here are some examples of physical redirection:

  • Placing a hand over your child’s and helping her let go of a knife, while saying, “That’s a sharp knife. Let’s get a plastic one instead.”
  • Holding onto your child’s hand as she pets a puppy while saying, “Use gentle touches when you pet the puppy.”
  • Escorting your child away from a steep hill while saying, “This area over here is great for playing.”

    Physical redirection shouldn’t involve spanking or other forms of corporal punishment. Instead, it should include gentle, loving touches that will teach, rather than punish.

    Tips to Make Redirection Effective

    Explain potential safety concerns to your child. Say, “No, that’s hot,” when she gets near the stove,  or “That is sharp,” when she tries to pick up adult scissors. Use short, declarative sentences and a firm voice to explain the danger, as well as to point out a safer choice.

    Use praise to encourage good behavior to continue. Cheer, clap or say, “Good job putting that toy away!” Praise will motivate your child to keep up the good work. Paying attention to good behavior provides positive reinforcement.

    Redirection will only be effective if you use it consistently. If you allow your child to play with certain items one day because you’re too tired to tell him to stop - but don’t let him the next day - you’ll send him mixed messages.

    Times When Redirection Isn’t Effective

    Redirection is most effective with younger toddlers and should be used sparingly with preschoolers.

    If your preschooler hits someone, a time-out is a more appropriate discipline technique.

    Redirection should be phased out as your child develops a better understanding of rules and consequences. By age 3, your child can start learning better problem-solving skills and she should be able to understand if…then commands. So rather than saying, “Chairs are for sitting,” start saying, “If you don’t sit down in the chair then you won’t be able to keep coloring.”

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