Respectful Redirection


When we see a child becoming dysregulated, we often impulsively jump in to “solve” the situation. Perhaps we are trying to keep it from escalating, which is useful at the right time. However, our first response should be to observe and give the child an opportunity to self-correct. Remember, we want our children to know that we see them as capable!

Non-Verbal Guidance

The majority of communication is non-verbal – depending on who you ask, anywhere from 55% to 93% — and it is a tool that is often overlooked.

Children are easily overwhelmed by adults jumping in with verbal instructions and, often, adding our volume to an escalating situation can be the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”!

What if we first try a simple hand gesture? A finger resting on our lips to signal “quiet”. A palm raised to communicate a gentle, “Stop”. 

non verbal guidance

Choose non-verbal gestures that are respectful and neutral – we’re not talking about a warning glare! Instead, steady and calm eye contact can remind your child that you are present and available to support them. That may be all it takes to help the child choose to self-correct. 

There are other forms of non-verbal guidance we can offer. Sometimes, the environment can be changed positively by dimming the lights. It can also be changed by modeling appropriate behavior – for example, if a child is touching a friend, slowly and methodically putting your hands in your lap can help the child remember what to do with his or her hands. Additionally, in the early childhood classrooms, American Sign Language is often used to communicate.

Verbal Guidance

Always start with waiting and non-verbal guidance before resorting to verbal guidance. When you choose to use language, consider your choice of words and tone of voice. Do they both convey respect for the child? It’s also important to consider the quantity of words.  One-word instructions can be more effective than explanations, especially with a younger age group. Start with simple reminders such as, “Walking,” instead of, “Why are you running? You know the rules. Stop running right now!”  or “We need to walk so that we don’t trip and fall, step on our friends’ work.” 

If a lengthier conversation is required, it’s helpful to name the observed behavior or action and give options to the child for a positive outlet. “I see that you want a turn with that toy.  Your brother is using it right now.  Is there another toy you can play with until he’s done with it?” 

Verbal guidance should be given one-on-one (so as not to shame a child), at eye level (a non-threatening posture), and in a neutral voice.

child works with geometric shapes at preschool
A child works with shapes from the Geometric Cabinet while friends quietly observe.


A reset is an opportunity for the child to do it over. It’s important to offer the child this reset not as a punishment (“Now go over there and try that again”) but as a moment of grace (“Would you like to try again?”). A reset interrupts a negative behavior pattern and allows a child the opportunity successfully navigate a situation.

To offer a successful reset, it may be necessary for the adult to model an appropriate way to handle a situation.


Sometimes, an effective way to support a child who is struggling to self-correct is to use something called “gluing”. This is when the adult invites the child to stay at their side for a short period of time, giving the child the opportunity to regulate. “I see that it is difficult for you to observe your friend doing their work.  Please come and join me while I give this lesson, and then I will help you find some work to do.” 

To offer a successful reset, it may be necessary for the adult to model an appropriate way to handle a situation.


What do you do if negative behaviors persist and you have been unsuccessful in waiting, gluing, and offering non-verbal and verbal guidance?

At this point, it is often helpful to get support from another adult. Consider asking a partner, friend, or teacher to observe the behavior that you are struggling to redirect. Be open to listening to their feedback (out of earshot of your child). And remember, professionals—a parenting coach, therapist, or pediatrician—are a wonderful resource to tap into!


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