Getting Kids to Follow Directions

Getting Kids to Follow Directions

Getting your kids to follow directions – here are some steps to take!

It can be frustrating to give directions to your kids only to find out later that your instructions were not followed. Kids sometimes ignore directions out of defiance, but, in some instances, the issue may stem from how the directions were delivered. Here are some steps to take when communicating directions to kids that make them easier to understand and enable compliance.

Get their attention

Kids might have a hard time focusing on directions if the environment around them is filled with distractions. Ensure you have your child’s full attention before you start providing directions. Ask your child to turn off the TV and put down his phone for a few minutes while you speak with him. Even adults have trouble remembering directions when they are multi-tasking. Make eye contact with your child, and do not begin speaking until he appears to be fully engaged in the conversation.

Tell, do not ask, when giving directions  

Formatting your directions in the form of a question is just inviting a negative, defiant response. For example, instead of saying ‘Can you please fold the laundry?’, say ‘Please fold the laundry in the basket.’ Keep your commands short and to the point. If you include a long explanation of why the task is important before providing your child with a command, it is more likely that his mind will wander, and he will not hear your directions. For example, instead of starting a long lecture on why you do not want your guests to see the house in a messy state, keep the explanation and command to a few words, such as ‘We need to clean the floor before our company arrives. Please start cleaning up all your toys in five minutes.’

Make sure your child understands first

Give one instruction at a time to young kids. If you try to include a list of tasks in your directions, there is a good chance many of them will be forgotten. For older kids, keep instructions short and to the point, but avoid speaking in a patronizing manner that may spark resentment and lead them to tune you out. Older kids may just need a reminder like ‘Please complete your chore list by the end of the day.’ This gives them a sense of responsibility along with the autonomy to decide when to complete the tasks during the day. Once you give your directions, ask your child to repeat the directions back to you to confirm that he understood them.

Provide a time frame for compliance  

Giving your child a few minutes of warning before you expect him to start a task reduces the risk of him just tuning you out because he is frustrated about having to immediately give up his current activity. When the warning period is over, remind him that it is time to immediately transition to his task. If your child is following a chore list, be specific about when you would like the tasks to be completed. Otherwise, your child may be tempted to use an incomplete task list as an excuse to delay bedtime at the end of the day.

Follow up on how well your child understood 

Observing your child while he performs his task can help determine how well your directions are being understood and can let you know if there is some level of defiance involved when tasks are not completed. Encourage future compliance by praising your child when you see that he listened and is performing his task well.