Distraction, Redirection and Enabling

by Heligirl on July 2, 2012

in Mom Tip Monday,Parenting Articles,Positive Discipline

Anyone with experience with toddlers knows the day is filled with these little beings grabbing, touching and doing anything their little hearts desire. The toddler years are filled with exploration, spontaneity, and often a complete lack of self-preservation.

The challenge on parents’ and caregivers’ end is trying to protect toddlers from themselves or from hurting the thing they shouldn’t be handling without disheartening the child.

The worst pitfall we can slip into is continuing to say “no” or constantly ripping things out of their hands. When we do that constantly, the toddlers begin to believe exploring is discouraged. They also in time develop a sense of anxiety and fear of reprimand. Now if you do this sometimes, especially when the child or object is in imminent danger, don’t beat yourself up. If we do it more than not then we are negatively affecting a child’s self-esteem.

There are two simple things we can do to help enable our little explorers.

1. At home, move things you don’t want toddlers to handle. As most of your time is home, toddler proof your house by moving breakable items and things you absolutely don’t want children handling. In addition to doing this, leave a few things that you’d rather they not touch, but they won’t hurt the item or themselves if they do. These items come in handy for step two.

2. Distract and redirect. If a child grabs something he or she shouldn’t, try distracting or redirecting. For really young ones just learning to grab things, reasoning isn’t going to do a lick of good. Start teaching them what “that’s for looking only” (focus on what they can do – which is enabling rather than telling them what they can’t do, e.g., “don’t touch.”). Gently remove their hands then offer them something they can play with or do that moves them away from the forbidden item. This is going to take time, patience and consistency. Sometimes they’re not going to be into what you have to offer, but in time they’ll start to relate “looking only” to things.

Trust me, in time they’ll get the difference between what they can touch and what they can’t. As they enter preschool years (4+), they should know the difference and be able to respond to “that’s a look only,” “we only look in stores,” etc.

However, in the meantime, staying focused on positive verbiage (what they can do), distracting, redirecting, and positive reinforcement (“you walked through the store today and didn’t touch anything. That was very good following the rules. Well done.”). It takes time. Lots of time and consistency. But in the end we can get them through these years with their self-esteem (and our most precious items) intact.


Susan July 2, 2012 at 10:37 am

Great article! I love distraction and redirection. Another thing, particularly good for toddlers is giving them something that is ok to hold, while gently taking away what they should not be holding. We had our house baby and toddler proofed to the max, and it made my life a lot easier. To this day, I try to not use the word no, but rather say, not now, or let me think about it for a while, or maybe next time.

If your little one has impulsivity issues (beyond what is age appropriate), as mine did (and still does), it was not reasonable to expect him to be able to make it through the grocery store without having something to hold or play with, so I always had things that I brought along to give my son.

Specifically, for some reason, my son has been obsessed with the American flag since he was a young toddler. Shopping around this time of year was a nightmare if he didn’t have a flag. So, I picked up about 3 of the small $.69 flags and made sure he was holding one when we went into the store.
Susan recently posted: What I Know For Sure

Lizie July 10, 2012 at 3:38 am

This is a great article! I am sure a lot of people can definitely relate and benefit from what you have posted here.. Actually, this has a lot of information for us..
Lizie recently posted: Sharepoint Hosting

Previous post:

Next post: