In the classroom, teachers spend a great deal of time working on following directions. It is an incredibly important skill and is essential for a safe and happy classroom.
Kids aren’t born knowing how to follow directions and it is our job as parents and teachers to help our kids learn this skill and to provide directions in a developmentally appropriate manner.
Here are the most useful tips for helping your child to consistently follow directions…
1. Eliminate Distractions
Kids are highly distractible. They are not yet great at multitasking. If you are trying to give your child directions while the dog is barking, the TV is on and he is getting dressed, I can guarantee it won’t work out so well. Kids improve with this as they get older, but with the younger kiddos you will want to pull them aside to a quiet space with limited distractions to give your directions.
2. Full Attention
Once you you have eliminated distractions, you will want to be sure you have your child’s full attention. You will know you have her full attention when she is facing you, has her eyes on you and her hands and body are calm and still. Now she is ready to receive directions.
3. Speak Slowly
I don’t mean for you to speak oddly slowly. Just be aware of how quickly you are speaking and try to slow it down a bit. Often when we are giving directions it is because something needs to get done immediately. “Go put your shoes and hat on!” “Put your toy away and wash your hands for dinner!” The first two steps of eliminating distractions and getting full attention will also help you to slow down your directions as well. If you are speaking slowly and clearly, your child is more likely to retain what you are saying.
4. Limit the Number of Steps
This is especially important for younger kids. You want to limit the number of steps in your directions to 1-3 steps. The younger the child, the fewer steps. Imagine your four year old’s response to, “put your toys away, brush your teeth, put your pajamas on, get into bed.” You’d be lucky if they remembered the first step in the direction. If you have many things you need your child to do, break it down into a few steps at a time. Give him the first two steps in one direction and once those are finished, begin again (eliminate distractions, get full attention, speak slowly, etc.). You can begin to add in more steps as your child gets older. It will be very clear how many steps they are ready for based on how many they are able to consistently complete.
5. Be Specific
Kids respond best to specific directions. If you tell your child, “go get ready for school,” that could mean a bunch of different things! Your child won’t know exactly what you mean and could end up doing something completely different than you imagine, or nothing at all. Instead, you could say, “please go put on the clothes we laid out and brush your teeth.” Those are two specific steps that need to be completed to get ready for school and are much more clear to your child.
For students who have attention difficulties in the classroom, we often ask them to repeat the directions back to us. Doing this let’s us know they heard and understands the directions, and it gives the child another opportunity to run through the directions. Here’s what this might look like:
“Sam, you need to throw your snack out and wash your hands. Can you say the directions back to me?”
“I need to throw away my snack and wash my hands.”
If your child is not able to repeat the directions back to you, repeat the directions for your child. Do this until your child is able to repeat them back to you. Make sure to also follow tips 1-5 for better success!
7. Visual Directions
Some kids need visuals with directions. This would be very difficult for every single direction, but could be super helpful with common directions and every day routines.