How to Discipline Your Toddler Using Redirection

Mom comforting an upset toddler girl
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Redirection is a bit like using martial arts. You want to try and use the strength of your opponent, so you're going to try and refocus your toddler's energy into something positive. Redirection stops the inappropriate activity immediately and sets the groundwork for learning right from wrong. If you always use the same discipline method, like simply telling your child to stop an activity, this only does half the job. Sure, the offending behavior has stopped, but you haven't really begun to equip your child with any appropriate alternatives or outlets for his desires.

If you've ever been driving in rush hour and found yourself gritting your teeth, you understand the connection between that action and the tension you're feeling. A toddler who is going through a phase of biting doesn't understand the connection but after an incident can still be experiencing stress. You can redirect and alleviate this tension by offering something appropriate to bite like a cold washcloth or a teether. Be sure to reinforce that it's OK to bite the washcloth but not to bite people.


So, if your toddler is yelling and screaming in the living room, you can say, "Yelling isn't allowed inside, but we can go outside and yell." Or you could offer to let your child go in their room with some music and encourage loud singing. If your toddler is throwing sand at a playmate, remove him from the sandbox and offer a ball instead.

You can temporarily disarm your child's desire to tell you, "NO!" by turning it around and allowing it. If you get a defiant "NO" in response to a request, ask a silly question like, "Do you want to eat giant slimy worms for breakfast instead of cheese toast?" Then your child feels like he's still able to tell you no, but the negativity that tends to go hand-in-hand with a defiant toddler has been diffused. Remember, though, that frequent "NOs" from your toddler are a normal part of development and actually help him establish his own identity. Save redirection for those times when it's most bothering you and you need a break from it.

Wrapping Up

As in most parenting situations, there is no one-size-fits-all method of toddler discipline. The more discipline tools you have at your disposal the better. Parents may find that the more they rely on one single method, the less effective that method becomes. When you use redirection, pay close attention to your child's reaction. Be as consistent as possible, but remain flexible if you find that redirection isn't working any longer. You might want to try one of these other toddler discipline techniques instead.