Following Directions
Jessica Glenbocki

Teaching Following Directions in Early Childhood

Following Directions
Jessica Glenbocki

Teaching Following Directions in Early Childhood

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Following directions can be difficult for young children.  When children are toddlers and preschoolers, they start to explore their independence and test boundaries. They don’t always listen and want to do things on their own timeline. However, teaching young children about following directions is an important lesson. Giving your child directions is more than just telling them what to do. Good directions help them learn right from wrong and what you expect from them.


Tips for Teaching Following Directions Using Good Directions

  • Use clear, simple commands.
  • Be short and to the point.
  • Be close to your child. Give instructions when you are near your child rather than calling out from across the room.
  • Get their attention first by lowering their level and making eye contact.
  • Don’t ask a question when you really don’t mean for them to have a choice.
  • Be polite and firm when it is not a choice. For example, “Please pick up the block.”
  • Be sure to wait 5-10 seconds after each instruction to let your child have time to respond.
  • Give instructions one at a time. Especially for kids who have attention challenges, try to avoid giving a series of instructions.


Tips to Help Understanding Directions

  • Get your child’s full attention by calling them by name and making eye contact when speaking.
  • Tell your child exactly what you want them to do by being specific and making a statement instead of a question. For example, instead of asking, “Can you go clean up now?” re-frame it as “Michael, I need you to please go clean your room.”
  • Check back after a short time to ensure they listened and followed through.
  • Add a consequence. Consequences can be both positive and negative. If your child listened, make sure to offer praise. If they don’t follow through, enforce your directions with a consequence, such as loss of privileges.


Getting your child to listen doesn’t need to be a struggle. With consistency and practice, your child will be following directions quickly!

About the Author

I am an occupational therapist with 12 years of experience working with children of all ages and diagnoses. I graduated from Cleveland State University with a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. After working in the field for a number of years, I obtained my certification in sensory integration. I currently work with school-based children in a virtual setting, focusing on fine motor, visual motor, self-help and sensory processing skills. I am also pursuing my Doctorate of Occupational Therapy through Shawnee State University’s on-line program. My pediatric experience includes working with children of all ages in various settings such as hospital based out-patient clinic, private out-patient clinic, early intervention, and school-based; brick and mortar and virtual schools. It is my hope to help educate and provide you with the tools to allow your child to reach their greatest potential. Treatment approaches focus on play and client/child centered interventions. My passion is helping children and families live their lives to the fullest!

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