In a childcare scenario it is important for the kids to start learning how to follow instructions. There are many reasons for this. First and foremost, we always want everyone in our care to be safe. Knowing how to follow directions is the easiest way for everyone to be safe while still having fun! 

Next, the faster everyone can follow instructions, the faster we can start having fun! If we are constantly having to repeat instructions and no one is following them, then it takes much longer to start each of our daily activities. 

Lastly, this is the perfect age to start practicing life skills that the children will use all the way into adulthood and following directions is one of those skills. They will need to be able to follow directions in elementary, middle, and highschool. Not to mention how much they will need this once they start working as teens or adults! 

Here are 5 things you can be implementing at home that will help your child to master this especially helpful skill.

Ask for your child’s attention while minimizing distractions

Trying to give your child directions while they aren’t focused on you is a bit like speaking with a brick wall. Ask for your child’s attention by saying something like, “Ben, can you please look at me, it’s time to listen for a minute”. Another thing you can do to capture their attention is to simply move into their line of sight. This signals to them that it is time to listen to whatever instructions you need to give. 

Once their attention is captured, make sure the distractions are minimized or you will find yourself having to recapture their attention many times. Try having them turn off the tv or put down their game or book while you are speaking to them. This will assure that you have their full attention when you are ready to speak.

Practice using “wait time”

Try to incorporate a “wait time”. This is a 3-7 second pause after you ask your child a question or give them an instruction. Research shows that kids process what you are saying or asking better when they have a few seconds to let the information sink in. The next time you watch a children’s educational show, I bet you start to notice the “wait time” they incorporate so that the info they are sharing with you and your child has time to sink in!

Check for understanding

This suggestion goes along with utilizing “wait time”. You can ask your child to repeat your instructions back to you or have them explain what you asked in their own words. This will help you to see if they truly understand what you are asking of them and it will give them a chance to ask you questions if they don’t quite grasp what you want.

Give instructions one at a time

Younger kids and kids with learning and thinking differences may have difficulties following a sequence of instructions. What you think is a simple sequence like “Please set the table, wash your hands, and sit down for dinner.”, may actually trip your child up after the first instruction of “set the table”. Try to only give the next instruction after the first one is completed, this may just simplify things enough to get all of your requests completed!

Be clear in what you are asking

Lots of children have a difficult time interpreting vague instructions. You may think the instruction of “Please clean your room” is a simple instruction. In reality, it is vague enough that kids have a hard time knowing where to begin. You may have a better understanding if you say, “Please pick up your dirty clothes. Next, put all of your toys in their bins. After that is completed, please make your bed.” 

All of these things will help you gently show your little one how to start listening and following directions. Hopefully they will help you to get more understanding and action from your child with less shouting and frustration! Just remember, this is a very important skill for everyone to have and it’s never too early to start teaching it!