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September 16, 2000

Helping Your Kids Get Better at Following Directions

by Shari Steelsmith

Tip--Learning the difference between a parental request and a direction is a distinction all children must make and being able to follow directions exactly, an important life skill.


Are you interested in getting your children to do what you ask the first time? Do chores without arguing? Accomplishing this might be as simple as giving them practice at following directions exactly, says counselor Laurie Simons, M.A., author of Taking “No” for an Answer and Other Skills Children Need. From toddlers to teens, children have a tendency to want to do things in their own way. Learning the skill of following directions exactly will help them be more successful both in their relationships and in their life achievements, asserts Simons.

In healthy families, parents are in charge. It is essential for family harmony for all members to be able to follow rules and parental directions. As long as the rules and directions are relevant and consistent, children need to follow those guidelines. Parents can also foster leadership abilities in their children by occasionally allowing them to be the ones who give directions, within parental limits.

Tools--The following games are drawn from Simons' book Taking “No” for an Answer and offer children fun practice at following directions exactly.

  • Follow the Leader. Play this game to reinforce the idea that parents are in charge. You will need space to play and a timer.

    1. Set the timer for five minutes.
    2. The parent chooses someone to be the leader (the parent can pick him- or herself too).
    3. The chosen leader does various movements, positions, and/or facial positions for others to copy.
    4. After about 10-30 seconds, the parent interrupts the leader and picks a new leader.
    5. After another 10-30 seconds, the parent picks someone else, and so on.
    6. The parent continues choosing different leaders until the timer rings.
  • I Got It! Play this game to give children practice at following directions exactly as they are given. You need space to play and the list of directions below.

    1. Sit in chairs or on the floor in a circle.
    2. Pick one child to start.
    3. This child stands in the middle of the circle and waits for directions.
    4. Give the child a direction from the following list:

      Touch your toes.
      Turn around three times
      Go and touch the door, then come back to me.
      Clap your hands while I count to ten, then stop.
      Stand on one foot and count to five.
      Recite the alphabet from A to Z.
      Tell your full name and phone number.
      Count backwards from ten to one.
      (Note: you can make up more challenging directions for older children.)
    5. After the child follows the first direction exactly, the next family member in the circle has a chance to give her a direction.
    6. Continue until every family member in the circle has had a chance to give a direction.
    7. A parent then chooses another child to stand in the circle and follow directions.
Link to book description

You’ll find more practical tips you can use right now in Taking “No” for an Answer and Other Skills Children Need by Laurie Simons, M.A.

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