What are your best baby redirects?
August 25, 2019 12:13 PM   Subscribe

I’d like to limit the amount of “no” my child hears. A friend told me their nanny says, “use soft hands” when touching people/animals, for example, instead of, “No, don’t pet so hard.” What other sorts of positive redirects have you found useful?

NB: I definitely want my kid to know “no” when, say, crawling towards an open fire, running into traffic, etc., but I don’t want it to be every other word babe hears.

Any other suggestions or resources would be appreciated. Thanks!
posted by stillmoving to Human Relations (29 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
All done
posted by skewed at 12:18 PM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Walking feet! Listening ears! Two-finger touch!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:18 PM on August 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

I’ve been told to describe the behavior or action that you want rather than saying “Don’t...” For example, “Sit on your bottom, please” rather than “Don’t stand on that chair.” It definitely takes practice.
posted by Maeve at 12:21 PM on August 25, 2019 [25 favorites]

The overall pattern (for babies on up!) is that you give them things they may do that still get at the thing they want to do. "Oh! I can't let you hit me; you may ask for help with words, or touch my body gently" and the like. Peaceful parenting resources tend to be rich in suggestions. For example, here's Janet Lansbury discussing the issue (though she doesn't like the "redirect" word because it's apparently used to mean "distracting" by others).

Fwiw, I wouldn't personally necessarily use "soft hands" because it doesn't seem clear to me what that means (little kids are generally very literal), but do use "open hands" (as in, stretch fingers out and pet with the flat of the hand, rather than poking/grabbing) and "pet gently". Or with books, "please handle the pages gently, and turn them slowly."

(Also, you didn't ask, but: another word you might want to consider using only very intentionally is "careful". Saying "be careful!" about every little thing can really dilute it and, again, it's not even clear what it means. Whereas "make sure your body feels safe and balanced" or "hold on with at least one hand at all times" are things that one can actually objectively do.)
posted by teremala at 12:37 PM on August 25, 2019 [14 favorites]

In a store, Hands in pockets, please, Looking at new things is good.
Please walk.
Ask before we get close to the dog/ cat.
Gentle touch.

Can I go to my friend's house/ have this thing/ whatever? Wouldn't that be fun/nice/tasty? We're going to an event today/ I'll remember that you wish you had that thing/ We have different plans.

Silence. Some kids will really want to wear you down, but will get used to a lack of negotiation. I know you love the chicken at FastFoodPlace. We're having dinner at home this evening. I got out taco stuff. But, blah blah. Silence. Or, introduce a new topic. Do you think you'll have bubbles in your bath tonight?

When you say Don't Run! a child hears Don't! and Run! Saying Please walk, or Time for your walking feet they hear Walk, which reinforces the request.

and, especially Remember to instead of Don't forget to. Remember to wash your hands is an opportunity to do something right. Don't forget to wash your hands is a caution to not screw up.
posted by theora55 at 12:40 PM on August 25, 2019 [32 favorites]

For my 2 year old
"Have you seen how close your feet are to the edge?"
"What is your plan for getting down?"
"Can you remember which part of this is sharp?"
"You can say to him (other toddler) - i don't like that, please stop!"
"You can say to him - I would like a turn with the bike when you have finished"

None of these are things I thought up myself but they are all incredibly effective at times. I especially love giving my toddler the words to use to navigate conflict. Doesn't always work but I'm much happier that this is teaching rather than just screeching "No you have to SHARE!" Which might otherwise be my strategy.

I loved a book called "it's OK not to share" for lots of thoughtful writing about this sort of approach. You don't have to agree with all of it to take lots of helpful ideas.
posted by kadia_a at 1:01 PM on August 25, 2019 [14 favorites]

“Walking feet” is one I use all the time. Also “inside voice” and “tell me with words.”

“Can you help me...” or “I need your help” can
be good framing phrases. Rules can seem arbitrary to a little kid, but the idea of helping is understandable and appealing.

“Serious” is a word I use a lot in situations where reckless behavior would be dangerous or otherwise unacceptable. Bathrooms and stairwells are serious places, for example. Or if the kid’s acting up while getting dressed or whatever: “I need your help being serious while we get your socks on, then you can be silly.”

Sort of in the other direction from your question: I use “red light!” for “stop RIGHT NOW because you are doing something dangerous” and I like it better than “no” or “stop” for those situations because it has an extra layer of importance and requires an immediate response.

You might like How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen; it’s not entirely about this sort of phrasing, but there’s overlap.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:19 PM on August 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

"Hold tight" instead of "don't throw/drop/let go."
posted by Tehhund at 1:25 PM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

“Can I hear your strong voice?” for when a child is whining.
posted by wyzewoman at 1:27 PM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

I worked in a Montessori school for several years, including 5 in an afterschool program with 2-10 year olds. These were my room rules. They might need some adapting, but they were specifically written to phrase things positively.

Make a mess, clean a mess
Lights out, hands up, mouths closed
Listen to the teachers
Be a leader
Be nice to friends
Ask a teacher for help
Play safely
Share with friends
Use your words
Say please and thank you
posted by booksherpa at 1:41 PM on August 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

These are great so far, thank you! Would also be curious to hear any hints for even younger kids, e.g., when beginning to crawl and shoving everything in their mouth that shouldn't go in (sticks, rocks, sand, power cables, etc.).

Also, the reframings are especially helpful, as in "remember to" vs "don't forget," which is prompting vs scolding/setting up for failure. Other such examples are much appreciated, too!
posted by stillmoving at 1:43 PM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

When possible, set up the environment for small children so you don't have to redirect: breakables up high, cords out of reach, outlets covered, etc. Included in that should be stuff at their height that they can explicitly touch and play with - if they have options, they can choose the stuff they're allowed to touch, and it's easier to redirect. That could be as simple as a low shelf or bookcase with a couple of small baskets of toys.

For "everything goes in the mouth" it could be "Mouths are for food. Let's hold the stick." If it's something they shouldn't be engaging with at all, your best bet is to redirect to another activity. They want to eat the rock? Have a carrot or some puffs. They want to grab the power cable? Here, pull this wheely toy. They want to grab your pen or keyboard? A sheet of paper (or cardstock, if paper rips) on a clipboard with a binder clip on the other end so it doesn't move when they scribble.

Most of this is from my experience working at a Montessori school - googling Montessori classrooms, or Montessori class rules might turn up more ideas.
posted by booksherpa at 2:02 PM on August 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

We have a rule that my kid can touch flowers, but only with one finger (because you can’t pick / crush flowers with one finger). I like it better than “gentle touch” because it’s easier to understand and do, though we do use “gentle touch” for petting animals.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:13 PM on August 25, 2019 [8 favorites]

A couple who are friends of mine seem to use "No thank you!" in place of most places where you might otherwise say "No!"
posted by XMLicious at 2:19 PM on August 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

"Let's look with our eyes/feel with our fingers/listen to with our ears/smell with our noses/taste with just the tip of our tongues" can be nice if they're in an exploratory mood. Another really important thing my kid's Montessori school taught us about is "mouth works," which are chewy things like these from ARK Therapeutic. They're great for kids with specific identifiable sensory needs, but can be used by anyone who enjoys them! The tongue and jaws are muscles like any others and like having opportunities to do stuff.
posted by teremala at 2:30 PM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

There are so many good ideas here, I'm going to favorite the post.
The favorite thing I learnt from my sister-in-law who is a genius teacher is: speak in your ordinary voice.
I tried to avoid taking my kids into supermarkets when they were small, but when I did, I always told them the same rules at the door: look with your eyes, not with your hands; and you can choose one small thing, fruit or sweet. They easily spent the whole time weighing between a chocolate and a banana, going back and forth but not disturbing anyone.
I can't say I never negotiated, but I tried hard to never negotiate when the kids were small. They are only slightly traumatized.
posted by mumimor at 2:42 PM on August 25, 2019

We used “one finger touch” for things like flowers and in non-breakable stores.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:14 PM on August 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

When my son walk on toys or books or other random things on the floor, I say "feet on the floor" or "walk around the _______". When my son is flopping around while I'm getting him dressed or putting his shoes on, I say, "hold your body solid and strong". I do think kids benefit from clear directions.
posted by rglass at 5:51 PM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen "inside voice" / "indoor voice" yet, but I like that one. I also like "be kind" and "use our words."
posted by bagel at 6:34 PM on August 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

My kiddo is a year and a half. We encourage her to wave at strange dogs, instead of running up to them. This also works with flowers, trucks, and a lot of other things that she shouldn’t be touching.

We live in a city and often walk to the playground. Some days I end up saying “hold my hand, please” every two minutes, but it’s a good way to keep her from running into the road.

She went through a phase where she was extremely interested in cigarette butts. I couldn’t think of a good way to redirect her, so I would just step on them to keep her from picking them up. I now have a toddler who gleefully stomps on cigarette butts.
posted by catalytics at 6:54 PM on August 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

We use a lot of "Thank you! I've been looking everywhere for that [poisonous, pointy, deadly thing that child somehow found]" and taking it from child. Also "I'm going to do a trade for [innocuous toy] for [pointy, deadly thing]." Works 97% of the time.
posted by Toddles at 10:25 PM on August 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

Oh god, the first time I heard "let's use our walking feet" emerge from my mouth I was like OH NO I REALLY DID BECOME A MOM and now I'd say it's at least a weekly occurrence.
posted by potrzebie at 11:05 PM on August 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

A magical one from our day care was the How Many Minutes Strategy.
As in:
Kid: “I want to swing/hold that toy but other child is using it!”
Adult: “Ask other child how many minutes until you can have a turn?”
Kid: “How many minutes until I get to swing?”
Other kid: “Threeeee!” (Or whatever)
The other child exercises their agency, and meanwhile the waiting child is reasonably content.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:20 PM on August 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

These are good. Anther one that is more directive is "stop" or "wait". In our house this (ideally) means to freeze, look at parent, wait for further instruction. Works for intervening in all sorts of situations. It can mean no, but it also can mean "wait for me" or " not like that" or "ok but in the kitchen" etc.
posted by jrobin276 at 12:59 AM on August 26, 2019

When my children were little and wanted to touch things all the time, like a shop display or Christmas decorations at someone’s house, I used to tell them they could touch with one finger. I showed them how to gently run their index finger over whatever the thing was.

It satisfied their desire to touch the shiny thing but they couldn’t grab it or take it with just one finger. And I don’t know why but they never tried to rebel and use more fingers or try to pick up the thing or anything.

My other special trick was diversion. Instead of saying no, I’d divert attention to something else - “ooh look what I just found in my bag..”
posted by stellathon at 5:11 AM on August 26, 2019

One-finger touch is a total game-changer. It works so well. And +1 for "walking feet" and "gentle hands."

I say "on your butt" when I want them to sit down (PARENTS MENTIONING BUTTS! HILARIOUS!) and "eyes on me" when I need to be sure they're paying attention before I issue instructions. "Water stays in the tub" instead of "don't splash."

When my toddler is trying to kick or scratch whoever's closest because he's angry about something, I'll often remind him "hugs and kisses" which is quick shorthand for a larger ongoing discussion we're having about how we use our body parts to help others feel safe and loved and happy, never to hurt anyone.
posted by anderjen at 11:52 AM on August 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

"Bunny hugs!" not "OH MY GOD STOP TACKLING ALL THE OTHER TODDLERS AT THE PLAYGROUND!" People who can handle it get "bear hugs."
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:58 AM on August 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

When The Boy was quite small but mobile, we said Hot! when he got near radiators, stove, etc. The street, stairs and other things were Not Safe!, in retrospect, Danger! would be better. He is oppositional-defiant, but cares about self-preservation, and those things worked.
posted by Mom at 4:57 PM on August 27, 2019

At a certain age, this pivots into "you can definitely poke the cat in the butt, but it's probably going to try and claw you, and that will hurt".

Or, my daughter's five, and we've found it more productive to say *why* we wouldn't do it instead of just saying "don't do that".
posted by talldean at 7:03 PM on August 29, 2019

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