Friday, April 29, 2011

52 Tools Cards: Distract and Redirect

I've been pondering the best way to go through the tool cards.  I took notes on Single Dad Brad's experience and what he thought he'd do differently

So, I've decided to go semi-randomly through the deck, starting with ones that seem most applicable to life with a 2.5 year old.  I'll offer my thoughts and understanding of the tool, or share an experience with one I used a lot during a given week.

Today's card is Distract and Redirect.  I've heavily relied on this tool during the early toddler years.

The underlying principle is this:
Instead of saying "don't," redirect to a "do."
It reflects a truth oft repeated in our culture, and its a Biblical principle as well.  As the old song goes, "Accentuate the positive."  Becky Bailey says in Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, "What you focus on, you get more of." Phillipians 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."   

Tool for Self-Discipline
For example, say you want to break a bad habit, maybe snacking too much.  When you have the urge to snack, simply telling yourself not to snack keeps the focus on snacking.  "Don't snack, don't snack, don't SNACK," your brain thinks.  Eventually you give in, eat a snack and kick yourself for your lack of willpower.  More effective is choosing ahead of time what you will do instead of snacking, preferably something incompatible with snacking or that distracts you from your desire to snack.  Suck on sugar free candy.  Get a drink of water.  Keep your hands busy with a craft.  Go for a short walk.  Read a book to your child.

Another way to think about it
What happens when you read:

Don't think about pink elephants! 

Did you think about them?  Why?  I told you not to!  You likely did think about them because your brain processes the phrase "pink elephants" and starts picturing them before it even gets around to noticing the "don't" part of the sentence. 

If even adult brains have this issue, it's doubly true for young children who think very concretely. 

Don't is a more abstract concept than do.  Saying "don't" puts the focus on the undesired action. 

All negative commands can be better understood and more readily followed if rephrased as a positive. 

Simply put, don't say don't! Tell children what you want them TO do.

Instead OfTry Saying
"Don't touch the TV knobs!""You may play with the blocks."
(and lead them away from the TV to the blocks)
"No hitting!""Gentle touches."
(and guide their hand to demonstrate what you mean)
"No standing in the shopping cart.""Stay on your bottom."
(and help them sit down)

With very young children (preverbal toddlers), distraction is often enough.  Become the tickle monster and scoop them away from the TV.   Their short attention spans will quickly forget about the desired/forbidden object and you can consider how to change the environment to set your child up for success in the future so the issue isn't a constant battle (knob covers for the TV, move TV higher, get rid of the TV!)

And even with older children, there are times that words aren't necessary at all, and may even be counterproductive, especially during oppositional phases (like two and a half!).  During those times, you may find another Positive Discipline tool, such as Act Without Words, gets better results. 

There are so many creative ways the Distract and Redirect concept can be applied!  I'd love to hear about your experiences with this tool in the comments!

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