Mother reads to baby

The Art of Redirecting Kids

The Art of Redirecting Kids

My daughter-in-law is already becoming adept at the art of redirecting kids. She successfully distracts my 11-month-old granddaughter from sucking on the straps of her carseat by slipping her a more appropriate teething toy. Redirection is an effective guidance strategy, but one that can sometimes be overlooked at home.

You may have witnessed the preschool teacher's magical ability to transition your child from clinging to you at the drop off door to moving on to a favorite activity. Done well, your child doesn't feel manipulated, but is quickly moved from a sad/frustrated/angry space, to a happier choice.


Redirection is best done with the adult doing some talking aloud to narrate the situation. The teacher might say, "You are looking/sounding sad right now, but I remember how much you enjoyed working in the block area yesterday. You were making a big wall, remember?"

At home, mom or day might say something like this: "You're really wanting to drive your cars on the kitchen floor, but that is not a safe place for you to play. Let's draw a track for you on the back of this old wrapping paper, and you can drive your cars over here."

The idea is to help replace a negative feeling or behavior with a more positive choice. If your child resists the other option, you can still validate the feeling, and offer another alternative. "I can see that is hard for you to move all these cars by yourself, so I'm going to help you move them. Which special ones do you want to carry? Do you think you can draw a race track for them?" When the choices are given in a kind but matter-of-fact tone, your child will generally go along. Just hearing you validate their feeling, and offering a choice provides them with security.


The other overlooked parenting tool that can help keep your day running smoothly is "Pre-warning" before transitioning from one activity to another. You've probably heard the preschool staff telling children "It's almost time to clean up from lunch, because I see parents coming in. You will have time to take a few more bites, and then you'll need to finish up."

Knowing what is going to happen next allows your child to make a smooth transition. It can quickly become chaos in a class of 24 if "clean up time" is abruptly announced. Think of how you would feel if someone shut off your favorite program right before the ending, saying "It's time for bed now." When you can tell your child in concrete terms how much time they have left to finish something, they are much more likely to work with you and move willingly from one activity to the next.


Here are some ideas on using Redirection and Pre-warning to help your young child:

  • "It looks like you are getting out lots of Lego® parts, but pretty soon we need to leave for the store. Let's set your building on the shelf and put these other parts away. You'll have time to add about 10 more Lego® pieces to your building and then it will be time to leave."
  • "Did you remember that we need to leave early today to go to Grandma's house? You'll have time to finish your cereal, and we can take your toast in the car."
  • "I can see that you are really wanting to help me with dinner, but it's too hot by the stove for you to be on a stool. Can you count out our forks and spoons and set the table for each of us?"

Learning to use these simple approaches throughout your day may not eliminate all the power struggles and resistance that young children naturally offer as they develop their self control, but they can go a long way in making the necessary daily transitions go much smoother for both of you. You can also chuckle inside the next time you hear your spouse or significant other changing subjects when they want to avoid a topic – redirection works at all ages!

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