How to Give Clear Directions

“Why do I have to repeat myself time and again?” “Why won’t she listen to me?” Listening and following directions are important skills young children must learn.

There are many reasons why children do not follow directions:

  • The child does not hear the direction.
    Did your child actually hear what you said? Just as adults often don’t hear what their partner has said to them because they are focused on reading, email or talking on the phone, children too often don’t hear what a parent has said because they are focused on a task such as building a tower or drawing a picture.
  • The parent gives too many directions at one time.
    When you give your child too many directions at one time, it reduces the chance that she will follow the directions and increases the chance that she will be confused. Instead, try giving one direction at a time.
  • The child doesn’t understand the direction or the direction is too vague.
    Directions such as “Settle down,” “stop,” or “be nice” might be too vague and difficult for your child to understand. You will need to explicitly tell your child what you would like her to do.
  • The direction does not tell the child what to do.
    Parents often tell children what not to do, rather than what they should do. It is important to state directions positively in order to teach your child the expectation.
  • The direction sounds like a suggestion or question.
    When you say, “Will you put your shoes away?” you are not giving your child a direction—you are asking her a question. When you give your child a direction that needs to be followed, it is essential that you tell your child what to do rather than ask. For example, “Lauren, put your shoes by the door.”

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