Parents Corner

How To Give Instructions Your Child Will Follow


Every day, well intentioned parents communicate important messages to their children. The problem is that not all messages are received in ways we anticipate. Communication is a complex process and a skill we often need to work at no matter how old we are.

These tips will help you get your message across and enjoy a more stress-free family life.

• Gather your child’s full attention: Make sure you are no further than an arm’s distance and address your child by name first. Make sure that they are not doing anything else like playing with a toy or watching TV.

• Give instructions about what you want your child to do, rather than what not to do: Think about moving from ‘STOP’ to ‘START’ instructions. For example, instead of saying, “don’t play with the ball inside”, try “please take the ball into the backyard and play outside”.

• Be specific about what you expect: Spell out exactly what needs to happen next and avoid judgmental and vague language. For example, instead of saying, “don’t be so lazy”, try “please put your dishes in the sink after you’ve finished eating”.

• Always consider age and stage of development: For an instruction to be followed, it must be appropriate to that child’s age and stage. Consider the type and number of words you use.

• Break larger tasks into smaller steps: This is especially true of younger children. “Get ready for bed” refers to following a sequence of several steps: pack away your toys, change into your pyjamas, brush your teeth and so on.

Think about prompting children by giving one to two steps at a time.

• If your child follows an instruction, praise them: When you show children appreciation for what they do right, this reinforces good habits.

When instructions are unclear, children (and parents) can easily become overwhelmed and frustrated. When parents use calm, clear and developmentally appropriate instructions, this supports children’s growth and development.

Article Written + Submitted by

Monica Purcell | Family Facilitator

Nepean Community & Neighbourhood Services


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