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Instructions: Teaching Your Child to Follow

It can be a problem getting your child to follow instructions. Here are some ideas that may help.

Giving instructions

  • Be realistic. Know your child’s abilities and limitations. Give your child instructions that you know he is able to follow.
  • Make sure you have your child's attention when you give a direction. Say your child's name and ask that he look at you. Keep eye contact with your child. If your child seems distracted, turn off the TV or radio.
  • Give your child a simple, clear instruction, such as "Please shut the door." Be direct and specific. Avoid sounding like you are giving a choice when there really is no choice, such as "Don't you want to shut the door?"
  • Try putting things in a positive way. For example, say “Please walk” rather than “Don’t run.” Children may not listen when they hear too many “don’ts”.
  • Give one instruction at a time and make sure your child understands what you want him to do. If you are not sure if your child knows what to do, ask him to repeat the instruction or show him what you mean.
  • Give your child 10 seconds to start to obey.

When your child obeys

  • When your child obeys, praise him for doing well so that he will continue the desired behavior.
  • Thank your child by saying something like, "Thank you for putting your bear in the toy box."
  • Most kids love hugs and pats, so be sure to touch your child as well as praise his behavior.

If your child refuses to obey

  • Avoid scolding or nagging. Keep your voice calm. If your child doesn’t obey, repeat the instruction and give a time limit and a consequence if he does not obey. For example, if your child won’t pick up toys, you could tell him you will put them away where he won’t be able to play with them for the rest of the day. Make sure that you do what you say you will do. Empty threats will not work.
  • If your child still won’t obey, put him in time-out (usually 1 minute for each year of age). Use a boring place for time-outs without toys, games, or TV. Do not talk with your child when he is in time-out.
  • After time-out, tell your child again to complete the task. This will give him a chance to get attention when he obeys and will teach him that you are serious when you give an instruction.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2016.4 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2016-10-12
Last reviewed: 2016-10-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright © 2016 RelayHealth, a division of McKesson Technologies Inc. All rights reserved.
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