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Capable 7-year-old does not follow instructions


Our 7-year-old son is attentive in school and earns good grades. But he does not listen to us at home. When he does finally comply with an instruction, he is easily distracted. We have sent him to his room as a punishment, but then he kicks his walls and throws things. We have taken away privileges such as playing video games. He plays a team sport, and is also inattentive during practice and games. He does not listen to his coach or the referee.



It is not unusual for children to talk back, argue or refuse to listen when given an instruction to do something that they do not want to do. To improve these skills, replace the unacceptable behaviors with a new skill. 

Your son needs to learn the skill of following instructions. The age and development of your child will dictate the complexity of the skill. Think about how you would like your child to respond when given an instruction. Then teach this skill to him in steps like these:

  1. Look at the person who is giving you the instruction.
  2. Say “OK” so he or she knows that you heard them and understand.
  3. Do the task right away and check back when you are finished.

Clearly describe your expectations, and give your son a good reason why he should do it the way you have just described. Have him practice by giving him a simple instruction. Keep the practice brief and fun. This will make it easier for your son to actually comply with an instruction when the time comes. Tell him that whenever Mom and Dad, a teacher, coach, Grandma, etc., give him an instruction, it is important to follow that instruction.  

Praise your son when he practices. When he uses the skill or makes small improvements, praise him. If, however, you give him an instruction and he talks back or argues, issue a negative consequence and reteach the skill.


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