6 Easy Steps to Help Your Child Follow Directions!

May 12, 2016

Every parent wants their child to listen and do what they are asking the first time! First time obedience is even a goal of many parenting curriculums.  Lots of children can learn to listen and be successful without this level of instruction, but we help clients who are under-performing learners. For the sake of this blog, we want to teach you the steps to the listening to directions strategy we teach our families, who have children with auditory processing issues. It is important that with any skill, as many people as possible follow the structure of the instructions, to give the child more success at attending, listening, rehearsing, doing, reviewing and finally, celebrating an accomplishment!


So how can you begin training your child to really listen…not just hear you give directions? It’s as easy as 1,2, 3 but it takes both parents following through regularly and practicing this strategy to train the children to listen and do what is asked!

Step One – Attending: Stand 3-5 feet from the child.  Say your child’s name as you look at them in the eyes. (Yep! No yelling from another room of the house directions that may or may not get accomplished.) WAIT! did they look for Step 2? yes go to step 2.  No? Count to ten and say their name again and look for their eyes to meet yours. (Repeat until they stop what they are doing and look at you.) I know it takes a lot of patience and we live in a very hurried world, but do you want to move your child to listening better or keep getting the same behavior you have been receiving?

Step Two – Listening: Give a short, simple direction. “Go get your dirty clothes. Now!” Not “I think I need to do laundry and need your dirty clothes.” They aren’t mind readers and they don’t know how to infer you’d like their help.  Eventually you will give two steps to a direction such as: “Go get your dirty clothes and bring them and sort them in the laundry room. Now!” It’s also important you conclude the directive with a word that tells them to start! Their name is the ready set! and Now is the Go!

Step Three – Rehearse:  After you have given them the directive and said Now! Before they walk away ask, “What did I say to do?” Have them rehearse what the instruction was, “Go get dirty clothes.” Use a finger on one hand as a visual for the one thing or another finger for the second directive to help them count off what they are to do.  If they know it, have them keep repeating it to themselves as a way to remember the task. If they struggle to remember, give the direction again, Say, “Noah! Get your dirty clothes now!” Then ask, “What are you going to do?” Wait for their reply, “Get my dirty clothes now.”

Step Four – Do: Give them ample time to do the task. At first you might even set a timer for yourself to go check on them so they don’t have long to get distracted. If they complete the task, great! They did what you asked and you can proceed to Step 5, but if not, go to where they are and check on them. They may be taking a long time because they are gathering dirty clothes and it is taking that long. Again, if you yell from another room and assume they are distracted but as parents we should give them the benefit of the doubt first and go check on them.  If they are doing the task great, but if not, ask “Noah! What did I ask you to do?” (Put finger up as a visual prompt) Wait for answer “Get my dirty clothes.” If the child says I got distracted…but I…interrupt and say, “Get your dirty clothes now!” and wait for them to begin the task.

Step Five – Review: After they have completed the task, review what you ask them to do. “What did I ask you to do?” They reply, “Get dirty clothes.” You ask, “Did you do it completely?” they reply, “yes!” Move to step 6.  They reply, “No, I have more or I couldn’t because…” Then you help them complete the task.

Step 6 – Celebrate: Once a direction has been given and followed through completely, celebrate with them that completed the task.  The completion of a task, assignment or job is an important executive function skill to learn to be a productive member of society.  A celebration could be: Way to go Noah (High 5!) or You did it with no reminders! Great job! or Thanks for helping me keep our family together! You don’t have to pay or give anything to them.  The verbal thanks or praise should be sufficient for them to feel accomplished.  We all should help in the family!


Now you may be thinking this is a lot of work to get them to follow a direction and you are right, but as they get use to the process and listen better, they will hear their name, look, listen, do and know they are on track and not getting distracted.  You will be able to give 2 and 3 step directions as well.

As they age, giving them a written checklist will also be useful and they will feel a sense of pride in completing tasks, so they can have free time.  It will get better if they practice listening well.

Click here for more games on listening well.  If problems continue to persist, make sure they hear well and check with a Speech-Language Pathologist in your area that can help with language and processing issues.

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