Diana Lang and Jack Maass

Redirection: Verbal and Physical

Verbal and physical redirection help promote desirable behaviors by directing children’s attention to a different activity, toy, or behavior. These strategies help teach appropriate behavior, prevent injuries, reduce punishments, remove children from situations, and promote learning and exploration. The goal is to provide children with easy-to-understand alternative actions (verbally and/or physically) instead of using threats, punishments, or telling children what not to do.

How to Use Verbal and Physical Redirection

  1. Maintain eye contact and come down to the child’s level. Let children know that the act they are performing is unacceptable by using a firm, nurturing voice.
  2. Explain why the behavior is unacceptable in a clear, consistent, developmentally appropriate manner. This will help children associate these words with the undesirable action.
  3. Encourage children to practice the desired outcome immediately. For example, instead of telling children not to stand on chairs, verbally explain that they need to sit down while gently touching them to help them sit down carefully.
  4. Use physical and verbal redirection to foster children’s curiosity. For instance, encourage them to participate in desired acts that they will undoubtedly want to join.
  5. Provide positive reinforcement and praise for completing the act in a desirable manner.

Verbal redirection is effective without physical redirection, but physical redirection is not effective without verbal redirection. As in most forms of child rearing, communication is a pivotal component of effective parenting strategies. Physical redirection tends to be more effective with younger children because they are still developing their language comprehension. As children develop additional cognitive and language skills, physical redirection should be used less frequently and verbal redirection should be used more often. An extremely important part of effective physical redirection is adding a gentle, nurturing touch simultaneously with the verbal redirection.



Correct and incorrect examples of redirection are shown below.



1. “Stop running in the kitchen, you’ll split your head open!”

2. “I like your jacket, but don’t leave it laying on the ground.”

3. “Stop standing on the chair, you are going to get hurt!”


1. “The kitchen is not a place to run, walk when you are in here, please.”

2. “I like your jacket, please hang it up after you take it off.”

3. “We do not stand on chairs. Let’s go outside and play in your tree house.”



4. Grab the child’s arm to make him stop running.

5. Throw the child’s jacket at her after she leaves it laying on the chair.

6. “Stop standing on the chair, you are going to get hurt!”



4. “The kitchen is not a place to run, please walk when you are in here,” while gently touching the child’s arm to slow him down to a walking pace.

5. “I like your jacket, please hang it up when you take it off.” Gently touch  the child’s arm to guide her to the jacket and then to the coat hook.

6. “We do not stand on chairs, we sit on them,” while gently and immediately, touching the child’s leg and arm to help her get to a seated position.

Key Takeaways

  • Verbal redirection should always include explanations of the correct action that a child can understand while using a gentle, nurturing voice.
  • Avoid using threats and telling children what not to do.
  • Physical redirection should always be used in combination with verbal redirection.
  • Consistent language is key for effective redirection so children associate the same words with undesirable actions.
  • It is important to use the same steps and words if children repeat the same behavior. Consistency is key when reinforcing positive behaviors and deterring negative behaviors.



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Parenting and Family Diversity Issues Copyright © 2020 by Diana Lang and Jack Maass is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.