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Why You Shouldn't Redirect Your Toddler's Bad Behavior

Photograph by Twenty20

I’ve always been the type of mom to take a positive parenting approach. Instead of just reacting to my son’s bad behavior, I've always tried to redirect it. When I noticed a bad attitude brewing, I would attempt to change his behavior by bringing up something exciting or asking a question.

The most recent example was when we were at a theme park and he wanted cotton candy. Usually, that would have been fine, but he had been showing some attitude before we left, so I said no. I knew he was about to go into a major tantrum, so I tried redirecting his behavior and thought process. I asked him questions like, “So, what was the most exciting thing about the park?” or “What was your favorite ride?”

It worked for the moment—but I started having second thoughts about the method.

When my son’s bad behavior was at an all-time high—throwing all-out, screaming, kicking and the occasional “I hate you” fits—I desperately searched through endless parenting articles. In one of them, I came across the redirecting method. The ultimate goal of this method is to refocus your child’s negative energy or behavior into something positive. It’s supposed to work to stop their negative behavior in its tracks. Once I discovered this method, I knew it would be the most amazing thing. Or so I thought. I mean, who wants go through a huge tantrum when you can just avoid it, right?

But the thing is—and I learned this really quickly—we, as parents, shouldn’t let our kids avoid outbursts. Sure, they aren’t pleasant, especially when you have to leave a store because your toddler gets angry about not buying him yogurt (we had the same exact thing at home) and you carry him out to the car while he yells and kicks. Or is that just my kid? Either way—as much as we don’t like to see our kids act like that, we need to work with them as they experience those big feelings.

Without letting our kids have their outbursts, how can they learn to deal with their emotions? Not to mention, when they are older, their teachers, managers, friends and even spouses are bound to say something to make them feel some sort of frustration. I don’t know about you, but I want my son to know how to react in that type of situation. Those people in his future aren’t about to redirect his behavior. As a mom, my job is to prepare my son for the future, and playing reverse psychology on him isn’t helping.

As a mom, my job is to prepare my son for the future, and playing reverse psychology on him isn’t helping.

I’m incredibly thankful I realized this before it was too late. I still think positive parenting is a wonderful approach. I just feel that kids need to know how to deal with their emotions. Life is a whirlwind of events that will cause all sorts of happiness, frustration, stress and other emotions. We need to give our kids the tools to adapt now.

So how am I handling his outbursts now? Well, no lie—they are far from fun. But now I let it take its course. If my son doesn’t get his way, if he wants to express his frustration, I guide him in the right direction to do so. As draining as a tantrum can be, I still try to keep my cool. By calmly explaining to my son why he is in timeout or why he didn’t get his way, he can quickly learn why. I let him have his time in the corner when he breaks a rule or doesn’t listen, but after a few minutes I kneel down on the floor and ask if he knows why he is in timeout. Next, I ask about the feelings he felt and we work on different ways he can deal with them next time.

Too often kids are put in timeout and they aren’t clear on why. Sure, they may know what they did. But it’s important to reiterate what they did by getting down to their level and explaining.

The bottom line is, if you’re a mom like me—who has felt helpless, heard of the redirecting method and thought it was fantastic—please reconsider. Remember your child won’t know how to deal with negative events if you keep redirecting. Try the new strategy I mentioned above. It’s a good alternative and my son is doing just fine with it. Oh, and he has fewer outbursts, so it is highly effective, too.

You’re doing a good job, though, Mom. Keep it up! We all want what’s best for our little ones.

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