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Why Are Good Directions Important?

Mom holding toddler

Toddlers and preschoolers are exploring and discovering their world. They are also learning about what is right and wrong. Good directions are useful in many situations.

Good directions set limits on your child’s behavior and let him know how he is expected to behave or what he should do.

Our job as parents is to teach our children how to behave. Sometimes it may feel like you spend more time correcting misbehaviors than you spend teaching good behaviors. But, when you give good directions, you tell your child exactly what behaviors you expect. This means that instead of saying, “Stop it!”, “Quit!”, or “Don’t do that!”, you tell your child exactly what you want him to do. For example, you might say, “Please walk instead of running in the house” or “Please sit so that I can put on your shoes.”

When you give your child choices with your directions, you also encourage his independence. For example, if you want your child to get dressed but it does not matter what he wears, you can give him two choices. You can say, “Please put on the gray pants or the blue ones.” Of course, your direction should be at a level your child can understand or it won’t work. If your child does not know his colors, this would not be a good direction.

Good directions are helpful when you need your child to do something specific or to stop your child from doing something harmful or dangerous.

If your child is doing something harmful or dangerous, a good direction can stop the misbehavior. For example, if your child is standing in a chair, you can say, “Please sit with your bottom on the chair.” If your child is dangerously tipping the chair back, you can say, “Please keep the chair on the floor.”

Good directions prevent misbehaviors. If your child is doing what you told him to do, he can’t misbehave at the same time.

Good directions can prevent misbehaviors. For example, if you see that your child is about to throw a toy, you can give him a direction to redirect his behavior. You might say, “Please put the toy on the floor gently.” The direction lets your child know what behavior you expect from him.

Use Consequences for Not Following Directions

Anytime you give a direction, use consequences if your child does not listen. When you are first learning to give good directions, it is helpful to ask yourself if you have the time and energy to follow through with a consequence. For consequences to work, you need to follow through with the consequences each time. If you do not have time, it is probably best not to give a direction. Instead, you can assist your child with the task. For example, if you are running late in the morning and your child has not put on his clothes, you may decide to help him put his clothes on instead of giving a direction.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Giving good directions is a skill that is not always easy so practice will help. Practice and follow-through for not listening will also help your child learn that he needs to listen to your direction. Practice when you have time to follow through if your child does not listen. Over time, your child will learn that when you give directions, you expect him to listen to you. But it will take some time for your child to learn that you mean what you say. It is perfectly normal for children not to follow directions some of the time. However, it is important to be prepared for that and have a plan for immediately following through with a consequence. Click here for consequences that you can use for not following directions.

At other times, your child may test you to see how much he can get away with before you use a consequence. Remember that no excuse gets him out of the consequence if he has been given enough time to follow directions. When your child does what you tell him to do, praise him for listening and following directions.

Click here to learn about the steps for giving good directions.