Many parents are familiar with the scenario: Your preschooler is happily playing with some building blocks and attempting to construct a tall tower. After some effort (or maybe none at all), the building your child has so carefully constructed topples over. Rather than asking for your help in rebuilding the tower, she instead starts throwing a major temper tantrum (as well as some of the blocks). How should you react to this behavior?
How to React to a Temper Tantrum
Certainly, you could scold her, or you could put her in a time-out, or you could even yell at her. These methods are common and often effective. There is an alternative option, however. Next time your child breaks out in a temper tantrum you could try redirecting her—drawing her attention to something else and focusing that negative energy on something positive.
Redirection as Discipline
Redirection is a classic form of discipline, one that works especially well with younger children who might not necessarily understand or listen to reason and logic.
To put it simply, redirection is basically taking an emotionally-charged situation and diffusing it, thereby removing any lingering hard feelings. The energy and hard feelings from a negative situation like a temper tantrum are channeled elsewhere or redirected.
Refocusing From Negative to Positive
Basically, redirection is taking a negative situation and morphing it into a positive one. In the example mentioned above in which the child throws a block-related temper tantrum, a form of redirection would be to sit down next to your child and say, "I see you are having trouble with getting that building to stay standing up. Why don't we try to build a zoo or a park instead? We can put your toy animals inside when we are finished." Or, "Throwing blocks is never a good idea—someone could get hurt or something could break. How about we head outside and throw the ball to each other?"
In the war between your child and the block tower, think of yourself as a neutral third party, there to broker some peace, while also teaching your child important life lessons.
Dealing with Tantrums in the Heat of the Moment
Certainly, you still need to let your child know that the particular behavior that they are engaging in is not acceptable, but in the heat of the moment, while your child is clearly angry and frustrated, redirection allows you to stop the negative behavior and change it to something that's safe and more constructive. This allows you to let your child know that the way that they are acting is not acceptable, while also providing an alternative. As a result, redirection provides an opportunity to both correct and teach.
In general, children respond better to positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement—redirection does that while still subtly disciplining, letting your child know that what they are doing is not acceptable and giving them an example of a behavior that is more acceptable. At the same time, redirection is also a great mood changer—by providing a new positive activity for your child to focus on, they can take their feelings of anger and let them transform into happiness.
Encourage Good Behavior by Using Positive Reinforcement
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Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Effective discipline for children. Paediatr Child Health. 2004;9(1):37–50. doi:10.1093/pch/9.1.37
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