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Ways to Encourage Your Child to Follow Instructions

Tips to Encourage Your Toddler to Listen and Follow Directions

Following directions is an important skill for children to learn. It helps them learn to cooperate, to be responsible, and to be successful in school and in life. There are a number of things that you, as parents, can do to encourage your children to follow directions.

Tips for Encouraging Your Child to Follow Directions

Be clear and consistent with your instructions.

When you give your child instructions, be clear and concise. Avoid using too many words or giving too many instructions at once. Simple instructions in a nice tone are far more likely to be followed if your child isn’t confused by them. Be sure to repeat your instructions if your child doesn't seem to understand them and be consistent with your expectations. If you ask your child to do something, be sure to follow through and make sure they do it, even if you have to ask them in a different way. Always ask them to let you know that they don’t understand what you are asking them so you can put it in a different way for them that they do understand. Letting someone know that you don’t understand is a great lesson for them in life and this is a skill that will grow if you encourage them to do so. Thank and praise them for telling you they don’t understand and they are more likely to do it again and frustrations on both sides will be limited.

Use positive reinforcement.

When your child follows your directions, be sure to praise them. Let them know that you are proud of them for following your instructions. You can also give them a small reward, such as a sticker or a small toy. Positive reinforcement will help your child to learn that following directions is a good thing.

Avoid negative reinforcement.

When your child doesn't follow your directions, avoid yelling or punishing them. This will only make them more likely to resist your instructions in the future. Instead, try to calmly explain why it is important for them to follow your directions. You can also try to distract them or offer them a different activity. Always use positive body language when you are asking your child to do something. Huffing and puffing, changing your tone, negative facial expressions or crossing your arms will quickly be picked up on and are often then imitated by them in their day-to-day or reacted against as they are confused or hurt by it.

Make following directions fun.

If you can make following directions fun, your child will be more likely to do it. For example, you can turn following directions into a game. You can also let your child choose what they want to do after they have followed your instructions.

Be patient.

It takes time for children to learn to follow directions. Don't get discouraged if your child doesn't follow your instructions right away. Just keep practising and be patient. With time and effort, your child will learn to follow directions, and you’ll find a way that works for you both. Always use basic directions, and if you need them to do multiple things, then ask them to do them one at a time; otherwise, they will be confused and often get frustrated.

Here are some additional tips for encouraging your child to follow directions:

  • Set a good example. Children learn by watching the adults in their lives. If you want your child to follow directions, be sure to follow directions yourself.

  • Make sure your child understands why it is important to follow directions. Explain to them that following directions helps them to stay safe, to be respectful, and to get along with others.

  • Break down complex tasks into smaller steps. This will make it easier for your child to understand and follow the instructions.

  • Give your child a chance to practice following directions. Start with simple tasks and gradually work your way up to more complex tasks.

  • Be patient and positive. It takes time for children to learn to follow directions. Don't get discouraged if your child doesn't get it right away. Just keep practising and be patient. With time and effort, your child will learn to follow directions.

  • Make a list that you can put up in their room or in the kitchen which has a small list of their daily tasks for the mornings and evenings, for example;

1) Clean your teeth

2) Wash your face

3) Brush your hair

Let them tick them off the list when they have done them as a reward and praise them for doing them so well. They will quickly get into a routine and habit of doing them without you even asking or needing to be with them. Children like to be rewarded and feel like they are growing up and being responsible and you will often find they will want to do more and more for themselves and to help you out. Another tip is not to call the list a chore list or a list of rules as these words have a negative connotation and will be something they pick up on and won’t want to do, especially as they get older. These small things will really help you all get into a routine and give your toddler some independence which they start to need and will love.

Unless you are offering a choice, don't ask.

When giving instructions to your toddler, it's important to be clear and direct. Instead of asking open-ended questions like, "Would you like to put on your shoes?" provide clear directives such as, "Please put on your shoes now." This helps avoid confusion and provides a clear expectation for your child.

Give one instruction at a time

Toddlers can easily become overwhelmed if they are given multiple instructions at once. To ensure understanding and compliance, break down your instructions into single, simple key tasks. For example, instead of saying, "Put away your toys, wash your hands, and come to the table," you can say, "Please can you put away your toys now." Once that task is completed, move on to the next instruction.

Ask your child to repeat your directions out loud

After giving an instruction, ask your toddler to repeat it back to you. This helps reinforce their understanding and ensures that they have processed the information correctly. For example, if you ask your child to pick up their stuffed animal, say, "Can you repeat what I asked you to do?" If your child says, "Pick up my stuffed animal," you know they understood the instruction.

Reinforce positive behaviour

When your toddler follows your instructions and completes a task, provide positive reinforcement. Praise and acknowledge their efforts by saying things like, "Great job picking up your toys!" or "Thank you for listening and putting on your shoes." This positive feedback encourages your child to continue following instructions and reinforces good behaviour.

Provide and follow through if your toddler repeatedly doesn't do as you ask them to.

If your child chooses not to follow an instruction, and they understand what you are asking them to do it's important to establish consequences. Be consistent with your approach and make sure the consequences are appropriate and proportional to the behaviour. For example, if your child refuses to clean up their toys after being asked, a logical consequence could be temporarily taking away a preferred toy until they complete the task. You should always explain why you are doing this in a nice tone and let them know when they have cleared up their toys they can have their preferred toy back and praise them when they have done it.


Following directions is an important skill for children to learn. By following the tips above, you can help your child learn to follow directions and become a more responsible and successful person.

Additional Information

Here are some additional information about encouraging your child to follow directions:

  • It is important to be consistent with your expectations. If you tell your child to do something once, be sure to follow through and make sure they do it. This will help them to learn that following directions is important.

  • It is also important to be patient. It takes time for children to learn to follow verbal directions. Don't get discouraged if your child doesn't get it right away. Just keep practising and be patient. With time and effort, your child will learn to follow your verbal instructions and these skills will help them when they start nursery and school to be much more confident and independent.

Remember, toddlers, are still developing their understanding of language and their ability to follow instructions. Be patient, use a calm tone, and repeat instructions when necessary. Always use a nice tone and good eye contact, ask them to look at you and listen with their eyes when you are talking to them. This will help them understand you are talking to them and is a great lesson for their whole life. By implementing these best practices, you can help your toddler learn to follow directions effectively.

If you are having trouble getting your child to follow directions, try and mix it up a bit and change your tactics using some or all of our tips. Talk to your friends with children of the same age or who have older children as they will all have experienced similar things. Talk to your family and ask them to be consistent with their directions as well so you are all working together and your child can see the consistency. If your child is at nursery or school ask their key carer or teacher how it is going at school and build a plan together on how you can approach it either at home, nursery or both. It may feel like an uphill battle at times but you will get there in the end with persistence, consistency and love.

About The Flowers Day Nursery

We are based in Swansea with off-street parking to make your drop-off and pick-up safe and easy. We offer flexible childcare options for children from 3 months to school age, as well as before and after school care with drop-offs and pick-ups for local schools in the area.

We have a dedicated team who are passionate about children and their academic and social development. We work alongside parents to ensure every child is happy in our care and enjoying the varied age-appropriate activities that we do with them.

If you are looking for childcare in Swansea, contact us today at 01792 46 44 45 to arrange an appointment to come and see our nursery, children and carers.

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