As a parent, I sometimes struggle with getting my kiddos to do what I’m asking of them. It can be frustrating when they don’t listen or don’t follow through with instructions, even at a young age.
It’s our job to teach our kiddos how to follow instructions to help them be successful in multiple settings. The tips below can help you get started on the right track.
1. It’s important to set up your expectations clearly and make sure they’re age appropriate. When you give an instruction, your kiddo should make eye contact, respond with an "OK," complete the task right away and let you know when they’re done. Pausing what they’re doing to make eye contact and to respond with "OK" tells us they’re paying attention and hearing the instruction. When they follow the instruction right away and check in to let us know it’s done, then they’re able to get back to what they’re doing a lot faster. When you explain what you’re looking for, it makes it easy for a kiddo to know what to expect. It also makes it easy to positively reinforce or earn a consequence.
2. Consistency is the key. It’s important to teach these expectations each and every time, even on the days it would be easier to let things slide. It takes time for kids to learn the appropriate behaviors and it takes even more time for them to do it the right way each time. Unfortunately, kids are good at picking up on our inconsistency and they will use this to their advantage. If they get away with not doing what you ask once, they’ll see if they can do it again. This takes patience and determination on our part to keep with it. But it will pay off in the end. The more consistent we are, the better our kids will be able to follow instructions and use this skill the majority of the time.
3. Make sure to reward them when they do it right! Praise them every time they meet any one or all of your expectations so they know to keep doing it. As they get better, you can use prompts to help reinforce what you’re looking for. This will also help them learn to use this skill outside of the home. Positive reinforcement from a parent is a powerful motivator for kids, and simply showing pride and approval can encourage your child to keep at it. At the same time, implement consequences if a kiddo is not doing what you ask, but make sure it’s appropriate to the situation. This could be losing a few minutes of play time, doing an extra chore or putting a specific game or toy away for a while. Individualize consequences and be specific with your praise.
Teaching kids to follow instructions will help set them up for success in a variety of settings, including home, school, jobs and sports. For more information, visit www.boystown.org.
Jennifer Simpson joined Boys Town in 2013 as a Family Teacher working with teenage boys and began working for the Intervention and Assessment homes in 2016 as an Intake and Compliance Specialist. In her current position Jennifer assesses youth referrals from different agencies regarding placement in the I&A homes, as well as provides resource information to consumers in need of services. Jennifer is also the mother of two young children and has a Bachelor of Social Work and a Master’s in Business Administration.