Believe it or not, we are not born with an innate desire to follow directions. This is a lesson any parent has learned as they’ve tried to get their little one to listen. If your kid is at this age, here are a few tips when you want to teach them how to follow your directions.

            Start small. Make sure you’re keeping in mind your child’s vocabulary – it isn’t the same as yours. When children are first learning directions, it’s important not to use too much language. For example, if you want your child to get their shoes, try saying, “Get shoes” instead of “Can you get your shoes, please?” It’s all too easy for a small child to get lost in language, so it’s a good idea to start with short 1-2 word directions or ‘attention commands’ such as: stop, go, wait, come here, stand up, sit down.

            Teach them directions as the action is happening. For example, if you are helping your child get into their chair, say “sit down”, so they know that when you say that, they are to sit down in their chair, or on the floor, or wherever you happen to be.

            Make it fun! You can play red light (stop) and green light (go) as an easy way for them to pick up on directions. Another great game is Simon Says – I highly recommend it. You can also take pictures of you and/or your child completing directions and pair the pictures with your verbal cues (i.e. ‘sit down’ paired with a picture of the child sitting down). These pictures can be phased out as your child begins to master directions.        

            Lead by example by following directions while you play with your child. Every child, without exception, loves when their parents get down on their level to play. That makes it a perfect opportunity to model following directions. If you are playing with farm animals, model following directions by saying “Horse, get water” and modeling the horse running to water. Your child will more than likely start to model your actions and you will be able to fade your demonstration over time until they are completing the directions independently.

            Over time, you can increase the complexity by adding modifiers into your 1-step directions: “get the ball” vs “get the green ball” or “get the little green” ball. You can also start with 2-step directions: “get the ball and put it in the box.”

            Each child goes at their own pace and remember – practice makes perfect!

Rachel Hinson M.S., CCC-SLP

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