After my toddler gave the mop a “haircut,” I learned about the gentle discipline technique called redirection. When a child makes a mistake or has a meltdown, a caretaker suggests a more positive and safe activity. Regarding the shorn mop, I could have said to my toddler, “Mops are for cleaning, not cutting. Let’s use the scissors to cut this pretty paper instead.”
Years later, my spouse and I use redirection with our older children (“Let’s go wrestle outside, not in the kitchen”) and its close cousin, distraction, on our 9-month-old when he tries to chew electrical cords (“Try this teether instead”). Redirection helps us avoid yelling, and I’m surprised by how often it works.
Redirection can also help children understand the season of Lent. It can be hard to explain repentance to children and off-putting to lecture them on humankind’s sinful nature. But kids get redirection: You went the wrong way. No big deal. Turn around and go a different way. Try again. We all make mistakes—that’s why pencils have erasers. Such language takes sin seriously without loading children with guilt or shame. It’s Lenten redirection.
It can be hard to explain repentance to children and off-putting to lecture them on humankind’s sinful nature. But kids get redirection: You went the wrong way.
The story of the prodigal son (also known as “The Forgiving Father”) appears in the lectionary this Lent. Aside from reminding me of sibling squabbles at home, the parable is a study on redirection. The younger son—just returned from squandering half the family fortune—is redirected from his shame by his father’s embrace and instructed to clean up for a party. The older son—bitter about the unfairness of it all—is redirected by his father to welcome his brother and give thanks. The parable itself was Jesus’ response to redirect the grumbling Pharisees, who complained that he welcomed “sinners” and ate with them. Try sharing this story with your children this Lent as a means of illustrating God’s character.
Lenten redirection: We’re the ones going the wrong way. We’re the ones given unearned forgiveness and welcome. We’re the ones embraced by God as we turn and go a different way. God will do anything to help us get home.
Take a family hike. Notice signs and way markers. Talk about how following Jesus is a journey. Ask: What helps us along the way as we follow Jesus?
Try walking a labyrinth together if you have one in your area. Notice there are no wrong turns. You can’t get lost. If you can’t find one to walk, look up a finger labyrinth to try.
For older children and parents: Write thank-you notes to people who have redirected you or helped redirect your kids. Consider pastors, teachers, grandparents, coaches or other care providers.