Helping Children Follow Instructions: Tips for Parents

Do you have moments when it seems that your child just can’t follow directions, or even listen at all?
As parents, we know that the ability to follow instructions helps keep our kids safe in various situations. Whether they’re at school, at home, or playing with friends, understanding and following instructions is key to staying safe.

Being able to listen and follow directions reason helps kids become more independent and self-sufficient too. As they learn to follow instructions, they can take on more responsibilities and make their own decisions.

In this quick guide, Kids First speech pathologist, Hannah Rovere, shares some practical ways to help your child become a better listener who can follow instructions every day.

How to teach your child to follow instructions

Get your child’s attention first

Before giving an instruction, make sure you have your children’s full attention. You can say their name or give them a gentle touch on the shoulder. Sometimes it also helps to ask, “are you ready for the instruction?” or “Can I see your eyes, please? I need to know that you are listening.”

Be clear and concise

Use simple language that your child can easily understand and repeat the instruction if necessary. Your children are more likely to follow instructions if they understand what is being asked of them. Use simple, straightforward language and avoid giving too many instructions at once.

Easy ways to help your child follow instructions.

Break instructions down into small steps – and then provide praise

When you’re in a hurry and have multiple things happening at once, it’s easy to fall into the habit of giving children too many directions in one go.

For example, when you say “Find your socks and shoes, then put your lunch box in your bag and put your hat on, we are running late for school!” you may overwhelm your child. Too much information, given too quickly, may be hard for your child to remember all at once.

A better option is to break your instructions into parts and have your child complete one thing before moving onto the next thing.

Always remember to regularly praise your child for doing the right thing. For example:

  • “Find your socks and shoes”
  • “Great job! Do you need help putting them on?
  • “Please get your lunch box from the fridge.”
  • “Thank you for helping/listening, great work!”
  • “Next put your lunch box in your school bag.”
  • “Wonderful work, we are almost ready to leave.”
  • “Where is your hat?”
  • “Good finding! OK, put your hat on your head.”
  • “Let’s go to school to see your friends.”
Speech pathologists in Sydney share easy ways to improve your child's listening skills

Use visual cues

Try using gestures or pointing to help reinforce your instructions. Sometimes it helps to draw reminders on a whiteboard. For example, pictures of socks, shoes, lunch box, hat, and a car can work wonders when children are learning the sequence of tasks they need to follow.

This is sometimes called a Visual Schedule and is a handy strategy for all children aged 7 and under. Keeping words to a minimum reduces the cognitive load on young children and smaller, manageable steps can make them feel more confident and successful.

Lead by example and model your expectations

If your child is still struggling with understanding or listening to an instruction, repeat it again – but this time, show your child what they need to do to succeed. Children often learn by observing others, so be sure to model good listening and following instructions yourself!

Speech pathologists in Sydney share easy ways to improve your child's

Reduce distractions

Distractions, such as background noise, can make it hard for your child to focus. When you really need your kids to tune in to what you are saying, it may be helpful to ensure that music or the TV is turned off so that you are not competing for their attention.

Offer incentives

Speech therapists often use a ‘first/then’ approach to teach children how to follow instructions. You can use this strategy at home too. Rewarding your child for following instructions, such as with a special treat or playing a game, can improve their compliance.

How to improve your child's listening skills

Remain patient

Remember, learning to follow instructions takes time and practice, so be patient with your children and provide them with plenty of support and encouragement to set them up for success. Remember, every child is different and may progress at a different pace.

Concerned about your child’s ability to listen and follow instructions?

For extra professional support, please contact Kids First Children’s Services. Our friendly speech pathologists, located on Sydney’s northern beaches, can provide more insight into what areas are challenging your child and how to best support them.

Learn more about speech therapy at Kids First here

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