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7 Tips for Getting Your Kids to Follow Your Instructions

September 30th, 2015     By Erin Dittman, Supervisor, Boys Town In-Home Family Services

Discipline, Parenting Skills

This article was originally posted on Momaha on August 27th, 2015.

Could the way you give your children instructions be setting them up for failure – and you up for frustration?

I once heard that an average 10-year-old follows instructions 63 percent of the time. Maybe you’re thinking that seems really high – or maybe really low. I know we all get frustrated by our kids not following instructions. So even if “average” is about two-thirds of the time, how can we help our kids follow instructions more often?

1. Be clear and concise. Fewer words are better – keep their age and developmental needs in mind. Too many words can make it hard for a child to understand. Make sure you are using kid-friendly language when you are giving instructions.

2. Give one instruction at a time. A long list may make it more likely that your child could become distracted, forget, not understand or feel overwhelmed.

3. Be realistic. Give instructions you know your child can follow. If they can’t, take some time to teach them so they can do that task the next time.

4. Stay positive. Tell your child what to do instead of what not to do. When we only describe negative behavior, there are plenty of other options that might not be appropriate. Telling kids what they should do clears up any miscommunication.

5. Don’t ask, tell. Tell your child what to do instead of asking them. Asking implies a choice, which could lead to arguing.

6. Praise progress. Be sure to let your child know they did a good job following instructions. Use the words following instructions when you praise, so that your child can generalize that skill into other settings like school or daycare. The more you praise, the more likely kids are to comply with your instructions in the future.

7. Correct with a consequence. When children don’t follow instructions, don’t give them over and over. Instead, give a negative consequence. Even a small consequence will make it more likely that the child will follow instructions the next time.

It can be frustrating, but stick with it! The more you and your child practice this new skill, the easier it will become for both of you. Offer clear, concise instructions and offer praise afterwards. Hugs and high-fives all around! Use consequences when you need to.

Remember, following instructions is an essential skill – not only for home, but for school, daycare and in life. Giving instructions in kid-friendly terms will help your kids be successful in everything they do – and that’s the goal!

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