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Five tips to help your child follow instructions

Rachel Daruty
Paediatric Speech Pathologist
Kids First Children’s Services 2014

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Have you ever had a preschool or primary school teacher tell you that your child is having difficulty following directions?

Perhaps your child copies the behaviours of other children or you sometimes notice that your child has difficulty following instructions at home.

It is very important for young children to learn how to follow directions within their everyday environment. Following instructions helps them to learn, make friends and  stay safe.

Speech Pathologists are trained to identify a child’s ability to follow one or two step instructions and to determine if this ability is developing in an age appropriate way.

5 tips to help your child follow instructions
If your child is struggling with following instructions, there are several techniques that you can use to at home and school to help them to ‘tune in’ to what you are saying.

Try these strategies as you work with your child to improve their ability to understand and follow directions:


1. Try to gain your child’s attention and reduce the amount of distraction around him.  Using your child’s name as an attention marker is highly recommended and putting yourself at his level would also be helpful maximising eye contact (if possible)
e.g. “Mark, (pause to see if the child heard you ) sit down


2. Use simple sentences and avoid unnecessary words 

Avoid long sentences like:

“Come on Mark everyone is eating and it’s time to eat now”

Instead, try:

“Mark, time to eat now


3. Keep your instructions clear and positive.

Talk about what you want your child to do instead of what you don’t want them to do  

Avoid negative instructions like:

“Don’t stand next to the chair!

Instead, try:
“Mary, stand next to the door, please


4. Always accompany your instruction with non-verbal cues such as gestures and pointing

Hand gestures and facial expressions give your child extra help when they are trying to understand what you are saying

5. If your child is still finding it hard to understand an instruction, try using visual cues such as pictures, objects or photos  or a visual schedule
Some children find it much easier when the things they are required to do are clear and predictable. Young children are visual learners, so use pictures to help them understand your request

Other things to consider…

If your child has had many colds, ear infections and illnesses, it is possible that his or her hearing could have been impaired. For many young children, this hampers the ability to follow instructions because they simply cannot hear what you or their teachers are asking them to do.

If you are concerned about your child’s ability to follow instructions, speech pathologists recommend that parents also have their child’s hearing evaluated by an audiologist, just to be on the safe side.

An assessment of your child’s speech and language will also help to determine if your child needs extra support.

Contact Kids First Children’s Services’ Speech Pathologists on (02) 9938 5419 if you would like more information.

Reference: Adapted from Annette Ivanos (Senior Speech Pathologist from ADHC) and Victorian Department of Human Services –Disability Services – Disability Learning and Developmental Unit

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