How to help your child listen and follow directions

Children with learning differences might have difficulty following directions. Here are 10 tips to help you present information in a way that will help your child to listen to and understand directions:

  1. Don’t give directions until you have your child’s attention. You can move into your child’s line of sight, or ask for their visual attention directly. Be close to your child, rather than calling from across the room.
  2. Minimize distractions when you are giving instructions. Turn off the tv, or ask your child to put down their toy, book or tablet while you are speaking to them.
  3. Using a softer voice and a calm tone may help your child tune into what you are saying.
  4. Give age appropriate instructions. Speak to your child at a level they will understand. Typically, at age one, a child can follow a simple, one-step direction. By age 3, children start to understand and carry out more complex two-step directions, such as “please pick up all your cars and put them in the basket”. Keep in mind, if your child has attentional difficulties or language or cognitive delays, it may take them longer to reach each stage. You need to keep in mind their developmental level, not just their age.
  5. In general, give instructions one at a time and keep explanations simple. For example, instead of, “Go get your mittens because it’s snowing out and I don’t want your hands to get cold”, try, “It’s cold out. Put on your mittens.”
  6. Give your child time to process. Wait a few seconds after you say something or ask a question.
  7. Check for understanding. After you have given your child some “wait time” to process your direction, ask them to repeat what you said or explain in their own words. This will help you determine if they understood what you were asking them to do.
  8. Be direct. Make statements rather than asking questions: “Please take out the garbage now”, rather than, “Would you take out the garbage now?”
  9. Be clear and specific. Instead of telling them, “go clean your room”, give them specific tasks: “Put your clean clothes in the dresser. Then, pick your toys up and put them on your shelf. Last, make your bed.”
  10. Give choices when you can. If your child feels that they have some control, they may be more likely to comply with your command. You can give them some options, and still achieve the result you want: “Time to put your shoes on. Do you want to wear your red sneakers or your black sneakers?”

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