Helping Children Follow Directions at Home

Technical Assistance and Training System
TATS eUpdate
Family Involvement
Helping Children Follow Directions at Home
September 2008
Families can support and reinforce the knowledge, skills, and behaviors young children
will need to succeed in preschool and kindergarten. Developing good social skills is
essential to a positive educational experience for young children. Being able to follow the
teacher’s directions at school will help a child be successful. A parent may help their
child develop this skill at home. Many of the same techniques used at school to foster this
skill can also be used at home.
Best Practice
Some Thoughts on Giving Directions
1. Get the child’s attention
Before giving a direction to your child, make sure he/she is looking at you. Calling his
name, touching him lightly on the shoulder, or going to the child are some ways to do
this. If your child is busy doing something and you want to give a direction, make sure
he /she pauses and looks at you before giving the direction (turn the television off, pause
the movie or tape, etc.)..
2. Give clear, positive directions with high expectations
Giving clear, specific directions are important and will help assure the child will follow
them. Do not tell them what not to do, but rather what to do. Tell them what you want in
clear terms. For example, do not say “Stop running.”, but rather “Please walk.” Give
children rationales for the directions that they can understand. “If you turn off the TV,
you can help me set the table with the new cups.” Do not be vague, but rather be
specific. Do not say “be careful”, but rather “Please climb down from the ladder.” Do not
say “Behave.”, but rather, “I need you to sit quietly until I finish talking with Aunt
Betty.” Focus on the positive. Let them know you have high expectations for them and
give them sincere praise when they respond. When they follow your directions, let them
know that you are proud of them and how “grown-up” they are. Acknowledge their
3. Give simple directions, and a few at a time
Start with simple two-part directions (“Please pick up the doll and put her in the crib.”).
Break multi-step directions into smaller steps. Guide the child step-by-step if necessary.
Give the child time to complete the first step before moving on to another, give the
second step, and repeat until the feat is accomplished. For instance:
Page 1 of 5
Technical Assistance and Training System
Please go get your shoes.
Sit on the stool.
Put your shoes on.
Go find your bear and we’ll be ready to go to the library.
4. Vary the way directions are given
Most of the time talking to your child is the best way to give directions. Sometimes
children follow directions better if they are given in a picture format. Use whatever
method works best for you and your child. Games, songs and music can also help
children learn to follow directions (Simon Says, Head, Shoulder, Knees, and Toes).
5. Be Consistent and follow through
Your child will learn quickly that he/she does not have to follow the rules you set if you
do not follow through with appropriate consequences when the rules are not followed.
Being fair but firm gives the children predictability and structure. If you are not
consistent, the child may get the message that you do not always mean what you say.
This results in the child not always listening to you and not following directions. It can
cause unhappiness and disruption at home, and can be a stumbling block to success in
6. Offer choices
It is good to offer choices, if possible. Saying, “Do you want to give me the toy, or do
you want to put it on the table?” rather than, “Put the toy down.” will more likely result in
the child relinquishing the toy. Young children are more apt to follow directions and will
feel more responsible for actions and decisions if they have made a choice. Some
examples include: “Do you want to carrots or pickles?” “Do you want to hop or walk to
the door?” “Do you want to me to hold your hand or walk by yourself?”
7. When directions are not followed
If a child does not follow your direction right away, repeat the direction again. Enforce
what you say. Decide before hand what the consequences will be if directions are not
followed and make sure the child knows what these are. Be consistent and loving, but
firm. Do not give a warning, but apply the consequences if the direction is not followed
the second time. After the consequence, repeat the direction calmly. Give the child a time
limit to respond to your direction.
Some Ways to Sharpening Listening Skills
There are a lot of simple games you can play with your child to help him/her practice
paying attention, listening, and following directions. Here are a few:
Page 2 of 5
Technical Assistance and Training System
Listening Walks
Take a walk with your child. Stop where it is safe and both close your eyes. What
do you hear? Each take turns telling each other what you hear. A car? A train?
Birds? The water on the shore? You can do the same thing when sitting in an
airport or on a bus.
What is the Shape?
Cut pieces of paper into four shapes: circle, square, rectangle, and triangle. Show
the shapes to your child, then point to something around the house and ask
him/her what shape the object is. Or you can show the child the square and ask,
“how many of the square shapes can you find in this room?” Some examples:
 Circle – clock face, pot lid, sink drain
 Square – table top, tin box, the oven door
 Rectangle – window, cabinet door, rug
 Triangle – a slice of pizza, a puzzle piece, a block
This game can be played anywhere, such as driving in the car, or waiting for a
doctor’s appointment.
Upside Down Stories
Tell or read a favorite story to your child, but say something different. “This is the
story about Little Green Riding Hood.” See if your child catches it. You can
increase the subtlety of the changes as you go along, so they will have to listen
very carefully to hear the change.
Rhythm Clap
Clap your hands, or to tap out a simple rhythm on a drum or the floor. Have the
child listen and repeat the same rhythm back to you. Make the rhythms more
complicated as the child successfully repeats them. Take turns with the child
making up some rhythms to follow. Explore beating a rhythm on different
surfaces (tables, windows, carpets).
Find It!
Hide a small object (ball, Lego, picture). Give your child directions to find it:
"Take three big steps straight ahead. Turn to the left. Go to the box. Lift the lid
and look inside." Let the child take a turn hiding the object and give you
directions to find it.
Point and Do
Name something in the room. Ask the child to point to it and give a one or two
step direction. Example – “I see a red block. Can you point to the red block? Pick
up the block, put it behind you back and let me guess which hand it is in.” You
can each take turns giving the directions.
Page 3 of 5
Technical Assistance and Training System
Think about how the ability to follow directions quickly and accurately prepares a child
for performing tasks in school, developing friendships and staying safe in the community.
“Instead of a national curriculum for education, what is really needed is
an individual curriculum for every child.” – Charles Handy
References and Resources
Boyd, J., Barnett, W.S., Bodrova, E., Leong, D.J., & Gomby, D. (2005). Promoting
children’s social and emotional development through preschool. NIEER Policy
Report. National Institute for Early Educuation Research. Retrieved on July 22,
2008 from:
The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning
Focused improving the social and emotional outcomes of young children. Evidencebased, user-friendly information is available to help early childhood educators meet the
needs of children with challenging behaviors and mental health challenges. Products
Division for Early Childhood (DEC). (2007). Promoting positive outcomes for children
with disabilities: Recommendations for curriculum, assessment, and program
evaluation. Missoula, MT: Author.
Hemmeter, M.L., Ostrosky, M., Milagros Santos, R., & Joseph, G. (2007). Module 1:
Promoting Children’s Success: Building Relationships and Creating Supportive
Environments. Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early
Learning (CSEFEL).
Hutchins, P. (1986). Rosie's Walk. First Aladdin Paperbacks Edition.
Lentini, R., Vaughn, B.J., & Fox, L. (2004). Routine based support guide for young
children with challenging behavior. Tampa, Florida: University of South Florida,
Early Intervention Positive Behavior Support.
Technical Assistance and Training System (TATS)
Statewide project providing technical assistance and training to programs in Florida
serving prekindergarten children with disabilities. Website provides information and
resources on curriculum and instruction, evaluation and assessment, family involvement,
Page 4 of 5
Technical Assistance and Training System
inclusion, program effectiveness/quality, and transition, as well as, linking early
childhood partners.
TATS eUpdates are a service of the Technical Assistance & Training System Communities of
Practice. The TATS eUpdates are intended to provide current information related to best
practices or trends in the education of young children with special needs in the areas of
Transition, Program Effectiveness, Inclusion, Curriculum & Instruction, Evaluation &
Assessment, and Family Involvement. For more information about the TATS Communities of
Practices and the TATS eUpdates, please log on to
Page 5 of 5