Use directions when you need your child to do something or when your child is doing something dangerous or destructive that needs to stop immediately. When your child follows your directions, praise her so she knows you are proud of her for doing what you asked. Also, find other times in your day to praise and reward your child so your daily interactions are not always about giving directions and correcting misbehavior.
Steps in Giving Directions:
- Get your child’s attention. Make sure you have your child’s attention. You may want to bend down, squat, or sit next to your child so you can make eye contact with him.
Give the direction. Tell your child what you want him to DO instead of what NOT to do.
- Be sure the direction fits the child’s age and abilities.
- Tell your child exactly what you behavior you want to see.
- Using words like “No,” “Don’t,” Quit,” or “Stop” will stop misbehavior momentarily, but you also need to tell your child what you want him to do instead. For example, if you don’t want your child yelling, you can say, “Please use an inside voice in the house.”
- Make sure the direction is specific. Avoid saying things like “be good.” Tell your child exactly what you want him to do, like “Keep your hands to yourself” or “Listen to your teacher.”
- Make the direction a statement. If you give a direction in the form of a question, you allow your child the chance to say “No.”
- Give one direction at a time.
- Give the direction in a neutral tone. Avoid yelling or raising your voice to get your child to follow your direction.
- Be polite and respectful. Modeling politeness and respect when giving directions to your child teaches them good manners.
- Use gestures as needed. Kids sometimes do not understand what they are being told to do. Simple hand motions can give them the clues they need to understand.
- Choose your words carefully. Give directions that are clearly what you expect your child to do and only use words like “let’s” when you will be helping your child.
- Give limited choices. Only use choices when you are ok with what your child chooses. Using only two choices works best with young children.
- Provide carefully timed explanations. If your child asks “why” to a direction, provide a reason before giving the direction or after the child follows the direction. A lot of questioning and answering may cause the child to forget what has to be done.
Check compliance. Make sure your child follows your direction. Kids can be creative so it can sometimes be a little tricky to know if they did what you asked. They may seem like they did not follow directions by:
- Doing something slightly different. If the child does not do what you told her to do, she did not follow your direction.
- Dawdling or stalling. Sometimes children do not immediately do what they are told to do. Instead they may say, “Wait a minute,” or tell you they are going to finish something else before following through with your directions. This is considered not following directions.
- Pretending not to hear. Many children ignore directions in an attempt to delay or avoid having to do what you told her to do. This is considered not following directions.
- Following part of the direction. Children sometimes do part of a direction but not the entire direction. If it is clear your child understood and is able to do what you asked, doing only part of the direction counts as not following directions.
- Following directions with a bad attitude. Children may follow the direction but with a bad attitude. If the child did what you asked, she followed the direction. If you want her to follow the direction without the attitude, say that in future directions.
- Undoing. Children sometimes do what you tell them to do and then undo it. This is considered following the direction. You may need a second direction or a more specific direction to get your child to do what you want and leave it as you want.
- Add a consequence. If your child follows your direction, tell her exactly what you like about what she has done. If she does not follow directions, give her a consequence for not doing what she was told. You may choose to use time-out, take away a privilege, or give some other consequence. When the consequence is over for not following your direction, your child should still do what you told her to do. Once she does what you asked, go back to positive interactions with her.
- Page last reviewed: October 2, 2017
- Page last updated: May 15, 2014
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