How to Teach Your Child to Follow Instructions

Child following directions Being able to follow instructions is a key life skill. It starts when we are children and we’re given instructions by our parents and teachers, and even when we’re adults, there are plenty of occasions when we need to follow directions and instructions (have you ever assembled something from IKEA?!). Being able to follow directions and instructions is important in life and at work.

So how can we help our children learn how to follow instructions? Follow these tips:

Ask your child to pay attention

Children often find it difficult to focus their attention on just one thing, especially when they’re young. Say ‘Look towards me please, I need you to listen to me,’ and move into their line of sight. This gives a verbal and non-verbal indication of what you want them to do.

Turn off any distractions

Don’t attempt to have any sort of meaningful discussion with your child when they’re watching TV or they’re transfixed by a computer game. Turn off the TV and ask your child to stop playing their game for a moment. Ask for their full attention and hopefully they’ll realise that what you have to say is important.

Keep calm

When you want something done or you want to tell your child something, it may be tempting to raise your voice, but you’re actually more likely to get the result you want by speaking to them in a calmer tone. Often a child will get defensive or switch off if you raise your voice or get angry.

Take a pause

Once you’ve said what you wanted to say to your child, take a brief pause to allow them to absorb what you’ve just said. If it seems like they don’t understand, or even if they aren’t paying attention, repeat what you said.

Check that your child understands

If you’ve asked your child to do something and you’re met with a blank expression, this can be because they weren’t listening or paying attention, but it could also be because they’re not completely sure of what you’ve asked them to. Give them a chance to ask questions and ask them to repeat what you’ve just said back to you.

Watch how you phrase questions

Think about how you ask your child to do things. If you say ‘would you tidy your room please?’ this suggests that they have a choice. It sounds very reasonable, but it’s far better to give a clear direction like ‘go and tidy your room, please.’

Don’t give them a big list of instructions

With younger children, don’t give them a big list of instructions that they might find it hard to process and remember like ‘clear away your toys, go wash your hands before tea, and tell your brother it’s time to eat.’ This can make them feel overwhelmed. Give instructions one at a time.

Be specific

The more specific and detailed you can be when you’re given instructions the better. For example, instead of saying ‘go and clean your room,’ say ‘put away your toys and put your dirty clothes in the laundry basket.’

Try visual demonstrations

Giving visual cues can be helpful in reinforcing what you want them to do. Show them which drawer to put their socks away in, show them how to set the table, and show them how to put their toys away neatly, for example.

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