Google+ Authentic Parenting: Distraction: Tool or Trick (rerun)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Distraction: Tool or Trick (rerun)

A while back I read an article that challenges the distraction technique. It stated that distracting is just a way to avoid confrontation, and that conflict management is a skill that children have to acquire too. Where I do agree that it is necessary for children to assimilate conflict resolving skills, I don't know if we should be generating conflict just for the sake of it, and I sure don't think we should toss out the distraction technique.
Distraction can be a great tool when dealing with younger children, who do not have the capacity to deal with conflict, and who aren't verbal enough to engage in something like negotiation. As quoted from Peaceful Parenting:

Distraction is a wonderful, often underused technique. It activates the seeking system in your child's lower brain and makes him feel curious and interested in something. It can naturally override the brain's rage or distress systems. It also triggers a high level of dopamine, a great positive arousal chemical in the brain, which reduces stress and triggers interest and motivation. (1)
So not only is distraction a technique that will make life easier, it is actually beneficial for your child. I think it's important to asses the situation: a 1 year old will not understand why he cannot open the cupboard with the beautiful shiny glasswork, but he can open the cupboard of his to kitchen. In this situation distraction is a valid method. As I mentioned before, creating conflict for the sake of it is not a great lesson for your child either.
WHen the child gets older, you may be able to tell him not to open the cupboard because the glass could break. Or to open the cupboard but be careful because he might get cut.
It is necessary to parent age-appropriate, instead of just following a strict set of guidelines.

Now about the topic of conflict management: distraction is not a foolproof technique. There are times that you as a parent will have to resort to other methods. There are times, specifically when your child gets older, his mental capabilities evolve and he gets more verbal, that you will get into a conflict situation.

So instead of creating these situations because you do not want to avoid conflict, wait for them to occur naturally (I promise you, they will), and then deal with them accordingly.

(1) Tackling Distress Tantrums with Brain Research, Peaceful Parenting, Jan. 2010



  1. I agree in the cases you mention. Distraction to something more appropriate before the child gets upset is a great way to keep a peaceful home. When I think distraction doesn't work is when they're already upset. I see people waving toys in a crying child's face or singing a silly song to jolly them out of their feelings. Even if it works (or seems to), I think this sends the wrong message to the child, that their big feelings aren't wanted. So yes, I agree that distraction away from inappropriate things is a great parenting tool but distraction away from the child's own feeling is not. By the way, I know that's not what you're talking about in your post, but it's something I've been thinking through lately!

  2. Thanks for this!
    I sometimes feel that I am using the distraction tool as sort of manipulation, but it helps me tremendously to handle the conflict! And at this stage the toddler is much happier than she would have been with "No's!" or other discipline methods!

  3. this is really good - and there's plenty of grey area. is it appropriate to use distraction with a 3-year-old who is doing something unsafe, or do we use the opportunity to teach the lesson rather than divert a behavior? and does discipline really work on an 8-month old, or is distraction the "best"? i think using a combination of distraction (when and if appropriate) and discipline/conflict are necessary for everyone's sanity, safety and learning. great insights!

  4. Too true! You make a great point that parenting "rules" are not a one-size-fits-all. The distraction technique is appropriate and effective in some situations, like you describe. Like Tacey above, I agree that it's not healthy when used to invalidate emotions. As parents, we have to pay attention to figure out when/if using distraction is the best thing to do with our child in a given situation.


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