Learning to follow directions is an important life skill that can be nurtured. The ability to follow directions directly affects a child’s learning ad performance in school. In fact, their health and safety depend on their ability to listen and follow directions.
In addition, this ‘real world’ skill will support their learning throughout their lives. However, most children experience some difficulty complying with instructions- they are busy with their own thoughts and desires and oftentimes ‘forget’ to do as they are told. Parents must exercise patience as their child matures and grows in her capability to follow-through consistently.
How Children learn to follow directions:
- Give her undivided attention – Before discussing an important rule or expectation with your child make sure to remove all distractions. Be sure she is facing you, look directly into her eyes, say her name as you give your instructions.
- Make you instructions specific and easy to understand – Try to make your rules and requests as specific as possible. Instead of saying, “Please go clean your room” try, “First pick up the clothes off your floor and take them to the hamper. Then please make your bed, etc.” Break tasks down into several small steps that are not too overwhelming. If she is old enough to read, making detailed lists work great!
- Give choices – Whenever possible, let her decide how or when to follow your directions. Try, “Would you prefer taking out the trash now or after dinner?” Just be careful not to leave the task up for discussion. It is okay to let her decide when she does the job, but not whether she does the job.
- Ask that she repeat your directions – This will help eliminate the tearful protests of, “I didn’t hear you” or, “I didn’t know what you meant.”
- Create positive and negative consequences – Offering a reward for following directions and consequences for failing to do so give her motivation to follow-through. Be consistent with both rewards and consequences. This puts the responsibility for her choices on her.
- Let her help make up some of the rules to help her feel she is not always being ‘bossed around’ – Having a say gives her motivation to follow directions; therefore, she is less likely to claim that you’re being unfair.
- Always acknowledge positive behavior – Remember to pay more attention to the positive behavior than you do when she fails to follow directions. Oftentimes parents actually encourage negative behavior by ‘rewarding’ their child with undo attention when they misbehave and failing to give enough attention when they are compliant.