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Steps in Giving Directions

Step 3: Check compliance

Mom disciplining her son

In this step, you will be checking to see whether your child complied or did what you told him to do. Most children will respond within 5-10 seconds or within a short amount of time after you give the direction. The time frame will vary a little with each child and family. If your child does what you told him to do, follow through with a positive consequence, like praise (see Step 4). If your child does not follow your direction within a short amount of time, remain calm and follow through with a negative consequence (see Step 4). Determining if your child has followed your direction may not always be easy, even when directions are clear and fit the child’s age. Some examples are:

  • Doing something slightly different.
    • Sometimes children respond to directions in a slightly different way than was expected by the parent. For example, a parent might tell a child to put his crayons in the closet, but the child puts his blocks in the closet instead. This is considered not following directions as long as you are sure that your child knows the difference between the crayons and the blocks.
  • Dawdling or stalling.
    • Sometimes children do not immediately do what they are told. Instead they may say, “In a minute,” or they may tell you they are going to finish something else before following the direction. This type of behavior is referred to as dawdling and is an example of not following directions.
  • Pretending not to hear.
    • Many children ignore a parent’s directions in an attempt to delay or avoid having to do what the parent has said. As long as you get your child’s attention and are sure that your child heard your instructions, the direction should not be repeated. If your child does not respond within a short amount of time, the behavior should be considered not following directions.
  • Following part of the direction.
    • Children sometimes follow through with part of a direction but not the entire direction. For example, you tell your child to put her toys away, and she puts her dolls away but leaves other toys out. This is an example of not following the entire direction. If your child does only part of a direction, it is possible she needs to be taught what “put your toys away” means. In this example, you could say, “Good job of putting your dolls away. Now put the other toys away. Please put your blocks in the toy box.” Continue in this way until the child understands that all of these things are toys.
  • Following directions with a bad attitude.
    • Children may sometimes follow the direction but with a bad attitude. For example, you tell your daughter to put her toys away. She was enjoying playing with her toys, so she stomps across the room, picks up her toys, throws them in the toy box, and whines “I don’t want to put my toys away.” Even though she is following directions with a bad attitude, she is still doing what you told her to do. In this case, you can ignore the bad attitude and let her know you like that she followed your direction. If having a good attitude is important to you, you can include that as part of the direction. For example, you could say, “Please put the toys away as quiet as a mouse.” Remember that all of us, including adults, have to do things we do not want to do sometimes, and sometimes we also do it with an “attitude.”
  • Undoing.
    • Children sometimes test the limits by initially doing what the parent tells them to do and then undoing it. For example, you tell your son to put his toys in the toy box. Your son puts the toys away but then decides to pull two trucks back out of the box. In this case, your child followed your direction because he put the toys away and the direction didn’t include anything about leaving the toys in the toy box. If you have a child who will test the limits by undoing, provide really specific directions. You might tell your son, “Put all of the toys in the toy box and leave them in the box.”