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January 24, 2004

The Importance of Knowing How to Follow Directions

by Shari Steelsmith

Tip—Following directions exactly is an important life skill.

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There are a myriad of situations in life where we can’t do things our own way and instead, must follow others’ directions. Following a teacher’s directions at school, the recipe’s directions for baking a cake, or the Dept. of Motor Vehicle’s directions for getting one’s car licensed—all of these are times when we must follow directions and not invent our own way of doing things. “Learning the skill of following directions exactly will help children be more successful in their relationships and in their life achievements,” says Laurie Simons, therapist and author of Taking “No” for an Answer and Other Skills Children Need.

Simons asserts that it is important for all family members to be able to follow rules and directions. When someone rebels against following rules and directions, things do not go smoothly in the family and anger usually results. Of course, there are many appropriate times to give children decision-making control; a large part of parenting is to gradually allow children to assume more and more power over their own lives. The goal is to launch an independently-thinking and functioning young adult after 18 or so years. That being said, it is still true that during those 18 years, parents are in charge of the family and must set rules and routines that allow the family to function best. It is in every family member’s best interests to be able to follow these rules and directions.

Tools—Simons has developed several games that help children learn and practice the skill of following directions exactly.

Pantomime Game—Play this game to practice giving and following non-verbal directions.

Set-up: You need places to sit (chairs, couches, pillows)


  1. Sit in a circle—on the floor or in chairs.

  2. Choose one family member to be the leader.

  3. This person stands up, turns to someone in the family and uses invented sign language to direct that person to go and sit in another chair or spot in the room.

  4. The leader does not touch the person or use any words.

  5. After the leader has finished directing each of the other family members, he then picks someone else to have a turn as leader.

  6. Continue until everyone has had a turn to use gestures to direct the others.

Notes: If directions are not followed exactly, have the player try again until she gets it right. Even very young children should be able to follow directions exactly—you can simplify the directions for them, if necessary. You can make directions for older players more complex. If a family member refuses to play, do not coax or scold them. Pay attention and praise cooperative behavior and ignore resistant behavior.

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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