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Instructions: Teaching Your Child to Follow


Parents often have problems getting their children to follow instructions. Here are some ideas that may help.

Giving Instructions or Commands

  1. Make sure you have your child's attention when you give a direction. Say the child's name and ask that he look at you for example, "Bob, look at me".
  2. Give the child a simple, clear command, such as "Please shut the door."
  3. Thank the child when he does what you say.

Things to Remember

  1. Be realistic. Give your child instructions that you know she is physically and developmentally able to do. Know your child’s abilities and limitations.
  2. Be direct and specific. Say things like "Joey, put your shoes in the closet" or "Open the door." Avoid questions that imply choice when there really is no choice, such as "Don't you want to go downstairs?"
  3. Give one instruction at a time, and give your child 10 seconds to begin to obey. Do not repeat the same instruction a second time. Keep eye contact with your child.
  4. Do not give a second instruction while the child is working on the first one.
  5. Do not give your child an instruction unless you are prepared to use time-out for not minding.

When Your Child Obeys

  1. When your child obeys, praise and encourage him so that he will continue the desired behavior.
  2. Thank the child for following the direction by saying something like, "Thank you for putting your bear in the toy box, Joey."
  3. Kids love hugs and pats, so be sure to touch your child as well as praise his behavior.

If Your Child Refuses to Obey

  1. Help your child learn to connect her actions to consequences. For example, if your child won’t pick up toys, tell her you will put them away where she won’t be able to play with them for the rest of the day.
  2. If your child still won’t obey, put your child in time-out.
  3. Do not interact with your child when she is in time-out.
  4. After time-out, require your child to complete the requested task. This will give her a chance to get attention when she obeys and will teach her that you are serious when you give a command.

Written by Edward R. Christophersen, PhD.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-30
Last reviewed: 2010-08-09

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 health care professional.

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