I’m reading a helpful book called Becoming the Parent You Want to Be and am in the “discipline” section. One of the topics it talks about lit a light bulb over my head: distraction vs redirection. When a child is doing something inappropriate, the first thing a parent should do is assess what the underlying impulse is. For instance, if the kid is bouncing a ball inside the house, I don’t think he’s really thinking, “I’m going to do something naughty. I know, I’ll bounce the ball around the house because I know it’s against the rules!” Instead, his thought process is probably going something like, “I like how it feels to kick a ball and see how far it goes.” It just so happens that he’s inside the house.
Redirecting the child would then involve addressing that impulse: “It looks like you like kicking the ball. Why don’t we go outside and kick the ball around?”
Distracting the child would instead go something like, “Why don’t you play with your blocks instead?”
Distraction doesn’t honor the inner impulse or curiosity that the kid has. At that moment, he doesn’t feel like playing with blocks. He doesn’t want to work with his hands or build things; instead he wants to exercise his strength and test his physical capabilities. By distracting them with the next available activity without much thought into what it is that they’re trying to accomplish, parents don’t honor the impulse or learning process that children are naturally doing.
Of course redirection doesn’t always apply, but in that case, it’s still important to address the reason why the child is doing what it is he’s doing instead of just offering the next toy.