5 Mistakes Parents Make When Giving Kids Directions

Mother gives her child directions
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Whether your child responds to your directions by saying, “In a minute!” or he ignores your commands completely, dealing with a child who doesn’t follow directions can be frustrating. Some parents respond by doing the task themselves, while others resort to yelling or nagging in an effort to gain compliance.

If your child doesn’t follow your instructions the first time you speak, examine the way you’re giving directions. These common mistakes can decrease the chances that your child will listen:

1. You Give Too Many Commands

You likely give your child hundreds of commands each day, ranging from “Pick up your socks,” to “Stop banging your fork on the table.” If your child misbehaves often, it’s likely he receives many more commands than other children.

Bombarding your child with nitpicky instructions like, “Color inside the lines,” and “Pull your socks up,” will cause your child to tune you out. Your voice will become like background noise if you’re constantly offering advice and warnings about things that aren’t all that important.

Only give the most important instructions. Avoid giving the extra commands that are simply based on your preferred way of doing things – rather than the way your child must do something. While it can feel uncomfortable to watch your child do things his own way, overparenting your child can have serious consequences.

2. You Give Weak Directions

The words you choose when you give commands are really important. Saying things like, “Will you please go brush your teeth now?” implies the task is optional. So does saying things like, “Pick up your toys now, OK?” These types of commands make you sound less authoritative.

Give directions with authority. Make your command clear and avoid phrasing your instructions like you’re asking your neighbor for a favor. Instead, give directions like the authority figure you are by using a calm but firm demeanor.

3. You Repeat Your Instructions

Nagging will actually train your child that he doesn’t have to listen the first time you speak. Instead, he’ll recognize that you tend to repeat your instructions several times and he’ll realize there’s no incentive to listen the first time.

Rather than saying, “I’ve told you five times to shut off that video game!” only give a command once. Then, follow through with an if…then warning. Don’t allow your child to ignore your instructions or delay the task after you’ve told him once.

4. You Don’t Follow Through With Consequences

If you say, “Go brush your teeth,” yet you don’t do anything when your child makes no attempt to brush his teeth, he’ll learn that he doesn’t need to listen. Saying things like, “I’m not going to tell you again, go brush your teeth,” without a real consequence, also isn’t helpful.

Follow through with a negative consequence each time your child doesn’t comply with an if…then warning. Take away his electronics for the day or tell him he’s going to have an earlier bedtime, but make sure there is a consequence that will motivate him to follow through with your instructions next time.

5. You Don’t Offer Positive Reinforcement

Without positive attention and positive reinforcement, your child may lose motivation to follow through with your instructions. While you certainly don’t need to pay your child for every single chore he completes, or offer a trip to the park each time he puts his dish in the sink, positive reinforcement is important.

Offer praise for immediate compliance. Try saying, “Great job shutting off the TV right when I asked you!” or “Thanks for coming to the dinner table the first time I called you.” These affirmations reinforce good behavior and encourage kids to keep following your directions.

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