13 September 2011

The Art of Distraction

Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Through Play

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how challenging discipline situations can be met with play. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Having children spaced 15 months apart has taught me a number of things, not the least of which is how important distraction can be. Instead of yelling, screaming or harshly disciplining my children in the midst of a brawl I offer a diversion for one or both of them. Not only does this work during a disagreement between them, but it also helps in other situations where patience may be hard to come by. Here is a list of ways that I distract my children playfully and the situations best suited to each technique.

Toys: Of course, this one is fairly easy. Many tears are shed over the lack of sharing of a toy and I am often called in as reinforcement. Depending on the situation, I may determine that one child or the other is going to take a turn to play with the toy, leaving the other child wanting for something. If it’s Piper, I usually look for the closest interesting thing be it another toy or a book and I will engage her in play with it in a way she is not necessarily used to. At other times, I will hold her and take her with me as I finish whatever I’m doing and she will usually forget about whatever problem she was experiencing.

If it’s Heidi, I will go through some elaborate questioning to determine what aspect of the toy she was most interested in and what other toy I can find for her that will meet that need. Within a matter of moments of actual conversation, I can usually change her mood completely. If I don’t find a toy that she is interested in, I’ll run through a long list of whatever items I can think of, making them sillier as I go on. That’s a sure fire way to bring a smile.

Actions: In some cases, I can distract Heidi by asking her to show Piper how to do something, rather than, say, dumping a bucket of water over her head. Alternatively, I can ask her to jump up and down, run in a circle, or perform some other action that physically changes whatever she was previously doing. Short of physically removing her from a situation, this is often the best way to help her modify her behavior while still allowing her to output all the intense energy she has. Thus, I like to do this when she is engaging in some sort of physical action that is less than pleasurable for another person (usually Piper) as it is often the fastest way to change.

“Hey, look at that!”: This is probably the best distracter of them all, one that has been used for eons in every situation imaginable. I was recently blessed by having my husband’s cats return to our residence after a nine month hiatus at my father-in-law’s house and have since used every opportunity that you can think of to say, “Hey, look! There’s Hagen!” or “Where’s Ccino?” So far, I have had about a 100% success rate with this method whereas saying “Look at the clouds!” or “Look at the train!” is not always fool-proof. At least these particular animals are good for something.

Singing: When all else fails, sing. For real. I find this to be most effective in the car, but it also helps at very odd times like in the bathtub, downtime during the day and waiting in the doctor’s office/waiting room. Singing is actually the only way I was able to make the last 20 minutes of my recent trips home in peace because Piper had finally had enough of sitting in the car and refused to go unnoticed any longer. I sang ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ at least 10 times in a row (because if I stopped, she immediately started crying again) and all was right with the world. I have also made up a song for each of them that I will often revert to when I cannot think of anything else to sing, but that doesn’t always work very well. I’m working on adding more variety to my repertoire.

In most cases where behavior is ill-timed or unwelcome from a child, taking a different perspective is all one really needs to do in order to change it. Getting a little creative with parenting does require more work than simply reacting to a situation, but the results are clear: your children will be happier. If you can use the art of distraction just a few times each day instead of the automatic yell or stern tone, you’ll notice it really isn’t difficult at all and it will be second nature in no time. Go ahead, distract away.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • On being a more playful parent — Isil at Smiling like Sunshine shares how the Playful Parenting book impacted her.
  • Parenting a toddler through play — Alicia at I Found My Feet lists some examples of how she uses play to parent through everyday tasks and challenges.
  • Splashing in Puddles — Abbie at Farmer's Daughter shares how she learned to get dirty and have fun with her little boy.
  • Say Please — Cassie at There's a Pickle in My Life explains how they taught their son manners by "play," showing that actions speak louder than words.
  • No Nanny Needed — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life wishes parenting through play was her only responsibility during the day.
  • I'll Run Away With Gypsies — Nikalee at Spotted Pandemonium maneuvers physical and emotional obstacles while spinning playful tales, jumping through hoops, and inspiring the kids to clean the living room.
  • A Promise To My Daughter — Lindsey at An Unschooling Adventure writes a poem for her daughter promising to use play instead of anger when facing difficult situations.
  • Parenting Through Play — Not Always Easy But Always Rewarding — Amy at Peace4Parents discusses how play hasn't always come easily to her, the power of appreciative observation, and how her family learns together through play.
  • Imagination Plays a Role in Our Parenting — Tree at Mom Grooves shares how parents can use play to set the foundation for communication and understanding.
  • A Box of Crayons — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction talks about how a simple box of crayons has become a wonderful parenting and teaching tool.
  • The Essential Art of Play — Ana at Pandamoly shares some of her favorite lessons available for young ones through play.
  • The Art of Distraction — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro shares a list of distracting alternatives to harsh punishments in tough parenting situations.
  • Grace and Courtesy Games at Home or School — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now has ideas for grace and courtesy games that help you encourage courteous behavior without reprimanding your child.
  • I am woman, hear me roar! — Mrs Green from Little Green Blog shares how one simple sound can diffuse an argument in an instant.
  • Getting Cooperation Through Play — Amyables at Toddler In Tow talks about respecting the worldview of a preschooler by using play to encourage connection and cooperation.
  • Playful Parenting = Extra Energy??Momma Jorje didn't think she had the energy for playful parenting. See what she was surprised to learn…
  • Dance Party Parenting — Laura from A Pug in the Kitchen learned how to be the parent her children need through play.
  • Wrestling Saved My Life — Wrestling is as vital to her son's well-being as babywearing once was, finds Hannah at Wild Parenting.
  • Parenting through play — By playing with her children, Tara from MUMmedia is given amazing opportunites to teach, train and equip her children for life.
  • Parenting Through Play Starts in Infancy — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, Issa from LoveLiveGrow shares that though she only has a 3-month-old, playful parenting has already started.
  • Play Before Sleep — Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how playing and singing with her son before he falls asleep helps calm her frustrations that tend to arise at night.


  1. Excellent tips on distractions : ) We sing a lot, too, and I'm always asking Niko where something is (like "Kitty Ball" aka "Ick-hee Baah") or shouting "HEY! Look! ... Umm... Look at... umm... ME!" Thankfully, I only have one, but it's good to know that the same types of distractions will work on two.

    Excellent post, as usual! Thank you!

  2. I agree---distraction is a HUGE parenting tool. Sometimes my "distraction techniques" can be a little lame (for example, "Hey look, Aaryan! There's an ant on the floor!!"), but whatever it takes to keep him calm without a fight works for me! :-)

  3. Love these distraction ideas! Now I just wish we had some cats around… I sometimes find that feigning excitement about something else can work … but then sometimes Mikko sees through it. I have to polish up my acting skills!

  4. We have just started using distraction as a way of preventing upset in our house. Our current favorite is naming body parts. "Jack, where are your toes?" "Where's your belly button?" He loves to show us that he knows where his parts are - especially that belly button - and that's usually sufficient to divert his attention from a potential trouble. Another one we use is music. We have quite the collection of recorders, slide whistles, etc., and if all else fails, we grab something noisy.

  5. Singing in the car was often my saving grace with Kieran. He hated the car from day 1, and once he got old enough to be distractible, I used to sing and sing and sing til I was hoarse. I also really like the idea of having them engage in a physical activity - it's both distracting and helps refocus energy - excellent!

  6. Not only is this a really great post, but it is exactly what I needed. We use distraction, but have been feeling just out of ideas. Thank you!!! I'm serious. Somehow you make it seem fun again. I think I was having "distraction fatigue" and getting too crabby.

  7. Good advice. Although my daughter is extremely resistive to distraction it would seem. I'm persevering!

  8. Great suggestions. We do Hey! Look at that! and Singing all the time :-)

  9. Thank you all so much!

    Dionna I expect a concert in October.

    Lauren I think this is a sign that you need to bring some sort of live animal into your home ;)

    Teresa, I particularly enjoy the phrase 'distraction fatigue' and imageine it might be something like, "Oh hey..you...person...what are you doing..? Wanna, umm...do...something else?" I do hope this helps, even a little :)

    Lindsey maybe you just need to go bigger....Costumes, marching band, sky writing? :)

  10. yes ... distraction is a good technique to get attention from kids. i used it quite often when my little boy is crying asking for something i don't want to give him.

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