3 Simple Tips to Teaching Children to Follow Directions

As parents, there are a lot of things that we have to teach our children. One topic that is often overlooked is teaching children to follow directions. Teaching young children how to listen and follow directions can be challenging for many parents. This post will share three simple ways to help your child follow instructions quickly and improve their listening skills. But first, check out this quick video that summarizes each tip on following directions!


Tip #1: Fewer Steps

Make sure to give your child simple, concise directions. If directions are complicated or have too many steps, it will be harder for them to follow along with what you want them to do.  Keep directions short and straightforward. Kids follow simple directions more easily. Ask them to follow two to three-step directions or less depending on your child’s level of understanding and ability to pay attention. Young children may have a more difficult time understanding what you’re trying to say if the message is lengthy.

Tip #2: Use Pictures or Written Steps

Sometimes, it is easier for a child to understand what you want them to do if you provide written or visual steps. Visual steps allow your child to create a mental image of the task they need to complete. Use pictures or words on paper so they can refer back to the directions once you have explained them. The written and visual method can work very well with older kids as well as younger kids.

Giving your child something they can visually see can help them process what you’re saying, and then they can follow directions more easily.  If they understand what you said to them but still don’t do it right the first time, this tip can help avoid unnecessary frustration and keep things moving forward.

Tip# 3: Reinforce Positive Behavior

This tip can be applied to the previous ones but is important enough on its own merit that it needs a mention separately. When giving instructions to your child, keep good eye contact, keep things positive, and follow through with what you said. Rather than using negative language to get your child to follow directions (“don’t,” “stop,” “no”), try using positive and reinforcing language.

Instead of this:

“Stop breaking your crayons. We don’t do that to our art supplies!”

Try this:

“I noticed earlier how nicely you were caring for your art supplies. Your crayons will last much longer when you put them away gently.”

Positive reinforcement can be an acknowledgment when they’ve done something you asked them to do or if they’ve been following directions correctly. For informational and educational purposes, you can use a reward system for good listening. Rewards can vary based on your child and their preferences. Reward systems help some children remain motivated and interested in completing tasks if they receive positive feedback for their efforts.

Bonus Tips to Help Young Children Follow Directions

Reduce Distractions

When you have a child’s attention, keep it. It can be challenging for kids to hear and follow directions while playing video games or watching TV in the background, so try to minimize any distractions before giving directions. Turn off anything electronics that may distract them. Ask them to put their game or book away and make sure they look at you while you speak. You might also want to model this behavior by paying full attention when giving instructions.

Check for Understanding

Take a second to check for understanding by asking your child to repeat back what you said. It’s also helpful to explain directions in their own words and ask questions, so there are no surprises on the receiving end. Checking for understanding and having wait time can go hand in hand.

The longer the time between giving directions and checking up on their progress, the higher the chances of miscommunication. If you give a task with an explanation, have them practice doing it before you walk away from them to ensure they don’t forget how to complete the task. Check in every few minutes to ensure that things stay simple and straightforward.

Ask For The Child’s Attention

When you need your child to listen, make sure they look at you to know you have their attention. If you establish eye contact before speaking, you can assess whether the child understands your instructions. If this isn’t possible for some reason, try giving the direction once and then moving into their line of sight if you need to repeat yourself. This will ensure you have the child’s full attention.

Speak Calmly and Quietly

You might be tempted to speak louder or over your child when you need to give instructions. However, communication is most effective when we keep our tone calm and even, which will help your child focus on the substance of the message rather than volume and tone. So even if you are feeling frustrated, you are more likely to get your point across when you speak in a calm and even manner.

Take a Pause

Kids can listen and process information better when there is a three to seven-second pause after what you say or ask them. Implementing a few seconds of wait time allows kids time for reflection so they can respond appropriately. If you don’t get a response immediately, it doesn’t always mean that your child isn’t listening. Don’t mistake a pause for non-compliance. Sometimes, your child’s brain may be trying to process the message before responding with an answer.

It’s perfectly ok to repeat what you said if your child isn’t following directions or giving you an answer after an adequate pause.

The more you practice teaching children to follow directions, the better they will get, especially in early childhood. Children learn to listen and respond to directions at their own pace, but you must use as few steps as possible and reinforce positive behavior. Set realistic expectations based on your child’s age. Most toddlers aren’t going to be able to listen as long as an older child can. So, be patient and keep practicing!

Have Other Questions or Needs Regarding Your Family’s Health?!

Chiropractic care can be a natural way to enhance or improve your health by keeping your spine in line. Give us a call today to find out more! Dr. Eric of ADIO Chiropractic specializes in pediatric care and is located in Madison, WI. We look forward to meeting you.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Request an appointment online or contact us by phone at (608) 824-0950

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