Julie McIntyre Nov 17 2021

Disciplining Young Children & the Power of Redirecting

Have you ever heard of this saying, “The battle not fought, is the battle won?” This week’s Tuesday Tip is related to this saying. Redirecting a young child can help you avoid negative encounters and build a healthy parent-child relationship and set you up to avoid the battle.

Getting into an argument or power struggle with a child leaves everyone feeling like they’ve lost the battle. Following a power struggle or argument with a three, four or five year old child often leaves us feeling confused. We usually find ourselves wondering if the words or actions we chose were right. Did our encounter hurt the child more deeply than we can determine? Did our encounter damage our relationship? Was my discipline effective enough to change my child’s behavior? These are common questions parents may face when disciplining with corporal punishment. Let’s take some time to consider an alternative...redirection.


Redirecting simply means, directing the child’s attention to something else. Redirecting can take a negative situation and change it into something positive. Redirecting is a proactive parenting strategy used to address unwanted behaviors before it escalates or continues.

Redirecting is a strategy you need to be prepared to use. Preparation is key to using this discipline strategy.

What are examples of preparations?

  1. Think and plan ahead. If you think your child will misbehave during the upcoming event, have a bag of snacks or small items for him/her to play with in order to avoid boredom. Boredom is often the trigger for misbehavior.
  2. Teach your child cues or signals. Proactive cues are most effective. Giving your child a “thumbs up” or “okay” signal when they are behaving in the manner you desire, is a great place to start. Reactive cues may also be needed. Holding your hand up to communicate “stop” can be effective. Hand signals must be taught to the child and understood. It is highly recommended that they are practiced in a pretend environment before being used.

There are four common methods used when redirecting a young child: verbally, physically, with a cue, or with proximal attention. Here are some specific examples:

Example: Throwing a fit to not eat dinner.

Verbal redirecting:

Interrupt the behavior by posing a choice. Say, “You have 2 choices. “1” continue throwing a fit and you will lose your video games tonight. Or “2” finish your dinner and we can go out to play together afterwards.”

Example: Refusing to wake up in the morning.

Cue redirecting:

Say, “Remember we have our sticker chart for all the mornings you wake up on time. Hop out of bed so we can put a new sticker on your chart. You can do it! You’re almost to 10! Then we go to the park!”

Example: Talking to a friend, your child is climbing on a bike which isn’t yours.

Physical redirecting:

Step closer to your child. Place yourself in between the child and the bike, blocking his access. Hold your child’s hand. This is a good time to have a snack or small book ready to provide as a distraction.

Example: You are talking to your spouse in the kitchen. Child is jumping on the couch.

Proximal attention redirecting:

Simply walking to the couch and shaking your head signalling “no” can stop the unwanted behavior. Moving closer can be just the thing to change a behavior.

All behavior can be corrected or improved when discipline is provided in a caring and learning manner. Redirecting teaches children what we need from them, often before the behavior escalates. Corporal punishment as a means to change behavior leads to increased acts of violence from the child to others. It increases the risks of mental illness, anxiety and depression. On the other hand, redirecting children before or at the onset of unwanted behavior teaches children about the behavior we want from them. It opens up communication and can build positive relationships with our children.

For more information about this parenting strategy, simply use these words in your world wide web search:

  •    Ways to redirect a young child
  •    Discipline by redirecting

We all want the best for our children. At Concordia International School Shanghai, we value our parent relationships. We hope that our Tuesday Tips provide you with an opportunity to think about ways to increase love, patience and thoughtful parenting strategies during your early childhood years.