Before you do redirect behavior, it’s important to think about whether or not your child is ready, but also if you are ready. As much as you might want to yell, check yourself first. Take some deep breathes. Step out and take a break for a minute, and then try to redirect. An added benefit of remaining calm is that you are modeling this skill for your child, so they are much more likely to learn this as a skill that can be used in the face of frustration and conflict. Once you are calm, connect with your child and then redirect.
These are redirection strategies discussed by Siegel and Bryson (2016), and they use an acronym to help organize these strategies.
Describe, don’t preach
Involve your child in the discipline
Reframe a no into a conditional yes
Emphasize the positive
Creatively approach the situation
Teach mindsight tools
When addressing a behavior, don’t overtalk by engaging a long lecture. Often times, the child will just tune you out. This is especially important for younger children, as they are not yet able to take in a long lecture. There are some simple steps to use when addressing behavior that can help avoid the tendency to overtalk or lecture. My daughter had a tendency to hit me when she wanted something and didn’t get it. So, the first say thing I would do is address the feelings behind the behavior by saying, “I know you are angry, because you didn’t get the toy you wanted.” Then, I would address the behavior by saying, “Hitting hurts me.” Finally, I would offer an alternative by telling her to go hit her pillow.
It’s important to help children distinguish between feelings and actions. Thus, the message we should be conveying is, “You can feel whatever you feel, but you can’t always do whatever you want to do.” The first part of this involves acknowledging and validating their feelings. If if my daughter is angry that she didn’t get the toy she wanted, then I can express to her that it’s ok to be angry and to feel the way. But, I would also express to her that it’s not ok to hit me (I would do this by saying hitting hurts).
As parents, we should be careful about communicating that emotions should be turned off or that what they are feeling is silly. For example, I’m guilt of saying “You’re ok” to my daughter when she’s crying over something that I think is silly. This communicates the message that we are not interested in their emotions and that those emotions should be stuffed away. This might result in the child not wanting to share anything anymore. In addition, there’s a mismatch between what the child is feeling and the response that they are getting from the parent. As an adult, this person might doubt their subjective experience and may even feel that the emotions they feel in certain situations are not justified.
3.Describe, don’t preach
When a child misbehaves, as parents, we might naturally want to criticize and go into a lengthy lecture. However, often times, a simple description of what we are seeing is enough. My toddler, for example, likes to make a huge mess with her puzzle pieces by picking them, throwing, and yelling “Yay!” Rather than getting angry and telling her to stop, I can say “It’s hard for me to help you put the puzzle together when you are throwing them.” By just starting a dialogue and calling attention to the behavior, it opens up the door for more cooperation and better teaching. And in most situations, children do know right from wrong.
4.Involve your child in the discipline
Parents shouldn’t forgo their role as the authority figure and let their children decide everything. However, when children are involved in the process of discipline, they will feel more respected, buy into what you are saying, and help come up with solutions. For example, when my daughter would hit me, I say to her, “I can see that you are mad, because you really wanted that toy.” I can then say, “Instead of hitting, what are some other things you can do when you are mad?” It might be that she says go play in her room.
5.Reframe a no into a conditional yes
As a parent, there are many times that we have to decline a request from our children. However, when we have to say no, it matters how we say it. For example, my daughter absolutely loves going to my husband’s godparents house. They are like actual grandparents to her, and she has so much fun with them. When it’s time for me to pick her up and take her home, she sometimes refuses and gets angry. Instead of just saying, “No, we have to go home now, ” I can instead say, “Of course you can have more time with Chrissy. We need to go now, but Chrissy, can we come back tomorrow?” In doing this, I’ve identified and emphasized her feeling of wanting to spend more time at Chrissy’s house. This response also creates structure and skill (acknowledging the need to leave and the delay of gratification of a desire).
6.Emphasize the positive
Focusing on the positive aspects of what our children are doing is an effective way to deal with misbehavior. For example, my child whines when she wants something such as juice. Rather than saying “Stop whining!”, I can say “Ask me in your big girl voice.” Also, when my child wants a dessert before dinner, I say to her “You can have the piece of cake once you eat some of your peas” rather than saying, “No dessert until you finish your peas.”
Also, when your child is doing something well, compliment them. For example, your child may be having a hard time getting homework done on time. When they do get it done on time, say, “You worked hard on it, thank you for thinking ahead!”
7.Creatively approach the situation
There is no discipline technique that will work in every situation, so it’s important for parents to be flexible in their responses. It also takes knowing your child’s temperament and will, and what will work and what will not. For example, we eventually figured out that being silly and bringing humor to the situation when our daughter is upset helps calm her down. I have even tried to sit with her and hug her, but humor seems to be the best thing to help her calm down more quickly. Playfulness and humor are effective, because our brains like novelty. When we give our brain something that it didn’t expect, our brains pay attention. In turn, our children become more receptive to us.
My daughter being silly. If I can get her like this when she’s upset, I know I have got her, and she will be more receptive!
8.Teach mindsight tools
Mindsight involves being able to see our own minds and the minds of others. This redirection strategy helps children realize they don’t have to be stuck in a negative experience and that their mind can be used to take charge of how they feel and act. First of all, we should teach children to be aware of and sense their experiences. When they are dealing with something difficult, children shouldn’t stuff all of that down. They should be encouraged to talk about it. We also want our children to observe what’s going on within them and how the experience is impacting them. For example, children should focus on how their body feels and to be able to witness their own emotions. So, we want to teach them to do this, and use this awareness of their internal state to problem solve.
As an example, exams can be stressful and anxiety provoking for really anyone. If your child is worrying about an exam, help them understand their internal state. Their heart might be pounding, and they may be worried. Then, we can help them observe their internal state. The child might say, “It’s normal to be anxious about exams, because I want to do well on them. I can spend a few extra hours studying.”
There is a mindsight tool that can be used in this situation, and it’s called the “move it or lose it” technique. This would involve sitting floppy or like a noodle for a few minutes to become less tense. As this is happening, the parent and the child can talk about the difference in feelings and body sensations. Once this happens, the parent and the child can now discuss options for handling the situation.
As parents, if we can remain calm and talk to our children with warmth, this will further develop our relationship with our child. And if we can help them problem solve how to handle situations and disciplinary moments, this helps develop the child’s “upstairs” brain that deals with more logic and problem solving (the “downstairs” brain deals more with emotions and impulses).
Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2016). No-drama discipline: The whole-brain way to calm the chaos and nurture your child’s developing mind. Bantam Books: New York.