Redirection as a Discipline Tool…For Parents!

by Carolyn on September 14, 2009

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Victoria Parsons

Victoria Parsons

victoria 2

The beautiful little girl in these pictures is my niece Victoria. I will never forget the day Victoria’s mom called me and I could hear the panic and anger in her voice. As the story unfolded I could also tell that she called me as a means of protecting her daughter from the anger she was feeling more than anything else. She was mad. And although she asked for advice, that was secondary. She needed redirection. And I don’t blame her! Oh the mess!

My brother, Victoria’s dad, and his family had only recently moved into their new home. They had picked new paint colours and a vibrant pink was chosen for Victoria’s room. The cans of paint were left in each room waiting for the time when mom would get around to painting the walls. As you can see Victoria couldn’t wait. My very clever niece used a kitchen butter knife to pry open the paint and went to work painting the room herself.

When her mom discovered the mess she called me. “What do I do?” she asked desperately. My reply was “take pictures.” She was a little taken aback at my reply. But it only took a short while to convince the photographer in her that this was worth shooting. So she did. And I’m ever so grateful she did. These are treasures.

Of course she did have a conversation afterwards with Victoria about what she was thinking and why she decided to paint her room. And her reasons were quite logical. First of all, her mom hadn’t yet. Plus, she wanted to play “Trading Spaces” a HGTV home decor show where neighbours decorated a room in each others homes. Her brother refused so she went ahead herself and got started. Perfectly logical in the mind of a 3 year old! The show was a favourite of mom’s and the kids enjoyed it as well. In fact, mom later sent them off to the Life Network where they gave such joy there that my niece was rewarded with a t-shirt from the network!

In the course of all this, many people would suggest that my niece should have been punished. In traditional discipline I cannot imagine what would have happened to a child who had gotten up to such mischief. In fact I suggest that many of us, as children, would have been severely punished for this sort of thing. I’m sure I would have. But what would that have truly accomplished that wasn’t accomplished by a different reaction? My niece understood by the severity of her mother’s emotions when she was discovered that she had done wrong. She didn’t need punishment. She felt bad enough. Even though she was eventually photographed and fussed over, at just under 4 years old, she understood that this was not something she should attempt again. She watched her parents pull out the carpet in her brand new bedroom and work to remove paint where necessary and repair the damage that was done. She understood and she felt remorse.

And the parents, particularly Victoria’s mom is probably much prouder of her reaction at the time than if she’d lost control and spanked Victoria instead of calling me first to talk her down. Who knows how that would have gone? In such an angry state, hardly anyone would have blamed her for using corporal punishment, but not using it took greater self-control and strength and that is something to be very proud of.

And what of Victoria? Without punishment has she gone into a life of destruction? Is she a vandal now, wreaking havoc wherever she goes? Of course not. She’s a wonderful, well-behaved, well-loved and loving child. She’s delightful and sweet these many years later. She has not repeated the behaviour at all. She felt remorse, learned a lesson and I’m confident she will not repeat this or similar actions. Even without punishment! Imagine that.

We speak of redirection for children when they are young, to remove them from the temptation to do wrong, steering them gently in the direction we’d have them go, instead of allowing them to hit a playmate or snatch a toy.

As parents we need sometimes to redirect ourselves. We need to grab a cup of tea, go for a walk, call a friend, or grab the camera to help us through those angry moments when we’ve lost our tempers and feel like lashing out at our children for their antics. Long term the memories will be happier, the final outcome will likely remain unchanged, but the most important thing is that our relationship and attachment with our children is undamaged by our behaviour in the heat of the moment.

Do you have any examples of ways you redirected yourselves when tempted to slip back into the punishment style of discipline? They don’t have to be quite as dramatic as my neice’s little escapade!

Carolyn R. Parsons is a writer. She is married to Kent Chaffey and they have four daughters, aged 3 to 18. She blogs at BreezeDaze. Her first book, a poetry collection called Wind Rhymes will be published at the end of September.

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Carolyn (4 Posts)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah September 15, 2009 at 11:22 am

This was really wonderful to read. I doubt i’ll ever manage to control myself every single time something comes up, but reading these ‘examples’ really does help me to keep my head better when something ‘catastrophic’ (it really isn’t) happens. And i’ve come to realize that how ‘well’ i do at reacting reasonably and compassionately has MUCH more to do with what’s going inside of ME at the time (mood, stress, tolerance level, etc.) than it does with whatever my 16 month old has done or is doing. Figuring out how to ‘reset’ myself before i lose it has been my toughest personal challenge on this parenting journey.


Rachel September 26, 2009 at 12:55 pm

I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one who struggles with angry reactions. I know it’s tied into something from my childhood, perhaps feelings of helplessness evoke anger in me? I have found great comfort and advice in this area from a number of books (Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, Unconditional Parenting, I Love You Rituals, and Gordon Neufeld’s latest book) All of these books are sending the same message: harsh treatment of our little ones leave long-lasting and damaging effects on them. A parent’s relationship with the child is the most important part of raising him. The rest will take care of itself. I find it hard to trust this sometimes, but I keep coming back to it. I have even resorted to sending myself “reminders” on my phone to “stop and make a connection with my child” and to “do something to foster our attached relationship today.” I grew up in a conservative and authoritarian household, the oldest of three. It is a daily challenge for me to try to put that aside and not allow it to negatively influence how I parent my two small boys. It is also a challenge to live in the deep south and go against the norm of insensitive, authoritarian parenting that is so prevalent here. It’s definitely an up-hill battle within myself sometimes, and especially within my community. However, I know it is totally worth it.


lira November 25, 2009 at 11:09 pm

wow this is soooo great to be able to read it makes me feel like im not a freak in my approach to parenting. i recently had to take my daughter out of daycare which she only attended for 2 weeks because she could not transition well enough to feel comfortable and i did not feel comfortable leaving her somewhere she didn’t want to be. the daycare’s approach was totally opposite of my own and essentially were insensitive authoritarians who probably thought i was crazy for listening to my daughter’s emotions. its great to know other parents try there best to redirect and instead give love.


lira November 25, 2009 at 11:11 pm

and i totally feel you on the whole difficulty of not parenting the way you were, this is a daily mental struggle


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