Parents face many challenges when raising their children. What one of the leading struggles parents may encounter is how to get their children to do something they do not want to do. In Applied Behavior Analysis when an adult can give directions and the child follows through this is referred to as having instructional control.  It can also be termed behavioral as the child being compliant. Parents being able to gain instructional control can help decrease stress and conflict in the home while increasing them being able to follow direction to learn new skills. When parents do not have instructional control, they may find themselves arguing with their children, bribing their children, or even avoid giving instructions to prevent problem behaviors.  

Having instructional control does not mean you have to be harsh, mean, or cold toward the children. It only means when you give instructions the child can complete the instructions. One of the most important parts of gaining instructional control is establishing yourself as a someone the child wants to be around, and this can be done by merely playing with your child with toys/activities that they choose.

For example, if they enjoy coloring and you give them access to crayons and then color a picture with them, they will start to pair your presence with that fun experience. When you pair yourself, then they will want to get more access to your presence and will be more likely to follow directions.

Here is a list of 4 steps to establishing instructional control and helping your child learn to be compliant.

  1. Work on creating a plan that explains what happens when the child follows directions and what will happen when they do not follow your instructions. Think about what your child likes to do and their preferred item or activities. These can be used as reinforcers when your child follows directions. Think about specific consequences when they do not follow instructions.  

  2. Limit the child access to highly preferred items during the day that will be used as reinforcers. Use these special items or activities that are most reinforcing for the child as a motivator for following your directions, having good behavior etc. An example would be if your child loves playing play dough then only when they follow instructions in the morning to brush teeth they can have play dough. The children learn if they do “this” then I get “this”.  By limiting the access, it makes it more special and they do not get tired of it as quickly. If a child does starts to lose interest in a preferred item/activity find another item/activity that can be used instead.

  3. Stay consistent is a major factor in teaching to follow your directions. If you are going to give your child instructions be prepared to follow through with what you say, this means being prepared to provide reinforcement (praise or an item) if they complete the instructions or provide a consequence is they do not follow through.  It’s also essential that all adults in the home are consistent together. When all adults are following the same plan, then the children learn that they can’t go to another adult to escape what is being asked of them. For example, if mom says no more TV and dad lets the child watch TV the child learns they can get what they want by going between adults.

  4. Whenever possible give children choices. We all want to be able to make our own choice and so do your children. Even simple decisions like which shirt they want to wear, picking between two opinions for lunch, or choosing a book to read at bedtime gives them small control over their day.

Helping children learn to follow directions from others will not only help them at home but also be more successful in different situations where they are given instructions.  

The Following article has more info on helping your child learn to follow directions.



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