Respectful Redirection

In Waldorf early childhood classrooms, redirection is a commonly used tool to help classroom life flow smoothly.  It is a kind of art to use redirection respectfully and effectively.  Some parenting philosophies discourage the use of redirection, such as RIE, because they feel that it prevents the child’s feelings from being acknowledged.  Many parents find the idea of redirection frustrating because it just doesn’t seem to work.  Pulling a child away from a confrontation, or dangling a new toy before his face to try to avoid dealing with the conflict, is unhelpful.  I would call this distraction rather then redirection and I would agree that it shows a lack of recognition of the child’s depth of understanding of the situation.

Redirection, however is something different.  Young children have a consciousness that is more fluid and more dreamy than we adults do.  They live in a place of imagination where creativity and flexibility of thought are second nature.  In Waldorf early childhood settings, we strive to nurture this natural creativity.  We encourage healthy, vigorous play, and sometimes confrontation is part of this.  We utilize redirection as a way of resolving minor trouble without having to bring children out of their play.  There is no doubt that sometimes issues need to be dealt with directly.  But it also happens that small disputes seem bigger to the adults than they do to the children.  The teacher works to know her students well enough to be able to read the difference between the two types of situations and to act accordingly.  If we stop the play to address every disagreement with a discussion, the natural flow of imaginative play is interrupted.

It can also happen that a child begins to be disruptive just within the flow of the game she is playing.  In such a case, the teacher can engage with the child’s imagination, which shows respect for the importance of her game.  For example, imagine a child is pretending to drive a truck.  She begins to zoom around the room, interrupting everyone else’s play and being a danger.  Soon she gets a mischievous look in her eyes, realizing that she may be pushing the limits.  Instead of just telling her to stop, the teacher can approach her and remind her that this is a pedestrian zone where speeding is not allowed.  In this way, the child is not made to stop her play, but rather is redirected to play that works for that space.  The teacher respects that the child is living in her imagination and doesn’t force the child to abandon it in order to resolve the issue.

It could be easy to think, “Oh, that would never work.  The child wouldn’t listen.”  Initially that might be true, but with some practice parents and teachers can find a way to insist without having to create a direct confrontation every time.  This is not because we want to avoid confrontation, but because with young children, direct confrontation often leads to more provocative behavior.  When a young child realizes that a behavior is charged, she is much more likely to try it out to evoke a response.

When we are sure to give children enough aware attention in daily life, a lot of ‘naughty’ behavior can be addressed with this sort of imaginative insistence or redirection.  If a child is really having a hard time and acting out repeatedly, this is a sign that the child needs to be brought into the teacher’s space for some one-on-one attention and connection.  In such a case, the teacher will engage the child with some work that they can do together, so that the child can benefit from the teacher’s calm attention and center herself before returning to the group.

At home, I like to think of redirection as influencing the mood that is living between us.  When I step in to set a boundary with my kids, I try to be aware of how my energy affects them.  If it feels tense, I can offer a cuddle, a song, or a gaze out the window together.  This helps to repair whatever tension was created between me and my children and allows us to reconnect and move on.  If there is tension between my boys that feels too hard for them to handle alone, sometimes this kind of attentive energy from me can shift things.  I also find between siblings redirection can help with issues that arise around toys.  My boys are close in age and it is easy for the older one to want to be in control of the toys.  We have a ‘when he’s finished’ way of approaching this.  If someone is playing with something, the other has to wait until he is finished.  In moments where one child wants what the other has and is tempted to just take it, I often say, “You may have it when he is finished.  Here is a bowl you can use in the meantime.”  That is enough if the issue if really about the toy.  If the issue is about needing to connect, then tears might follow, but the tears gives us the chance to make the connection that my child was asking for in the first place.