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Instructions: Teaching Your Child to Follow

Here are some ideas that may help with teaching your child to follow instructions.

Giving instructions

  • Be realistic. Know your child’s abilities and limitations. Give your child instructions that you know your child can follow.
  • Make sure you have your child's attention when you give a direction. Say your child's name and ask that your child to 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 such as “Please walk” rather than “Don’t run.”
  • Give one instruction at a time and make sure your child understands what you are asking. If you are not sure if your child knows what to do, ask your child to repeat the instruction or show them what you mean.
  • Give your child 10 seconds to start to obey.

When your child obeys

  • When your child obeys, praise your child for doing the desired behavior.
  • Thank your child by repeating what was one such as "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 good 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 for not obeying. Make sure that you do what you say you will do. Empty threats will not work.
  • If your child still won’t obey, put your child in time-out, which is 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 during time-out.
  • After time-out, tell your child again to complete the task. This will give your child a chance to get positive attention and will teach your child that you are serious when you give an instruction.
Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2022.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2020-11-24
Last reviewed: 2019-08-07
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.
© 2022 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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