strategies for following directions

Strategies for Following Directions: Encouraging Your Child

Following directions is an important life skill that all children need to learn as they grow up. As parents, providing our children with strategies for following directions can help them develop essential skills like listening, focus, and discipline. In this blog post, we will explore some practical tips parents can use to help encourage their child’s ability to follow directions.

Understanding Child Development Stages

Before diving into specific strategies, it’s essential to recognise that a child’s ability to follow directions depends a lot on their stage of development. An infant may be unable to follow verbal directions, while a preschooler is just starting to develop these skills. Knowing what is typical for a child’s age can help parents have reasonable expectations and tailor their encouragement appropriately:

  • Babies (0-18 months): At this stage, babies won’t understand words but can learn to respond to basic cues like tone of voice, gestures and routines. Parents can work on establishing simple patterns.
  • Toddlers (18-36 months): Now able to understand single words and short phrases, toddlers have a concise attention span. Keep directions simple, use visual cues and be patient as skills emerge. 
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years): Kids understand more language but still struggle with impulse control at this stage. Praise effort over results and reward listening with a fun task to keep them focused and interested in pleasing parents.

The key is understanding where a child is experimentally and challenging them appropriately. Parents can gradually encourage more complex directions as skills grow while making tasks achievable.

Effective Communication Skills

Once parents know their child’s stage of development, how they communicate directions becomes essential. Clear, positive language can help children be more receptive to following instructions. Here are some tips:

  • Keep directions short – young children need more attention spans. Too many steps at a time can overwhelm them. 
  • Speak in a calm, patient tone – raised voices may come across as punishing and discourage listening. 
  • Use simple words they understand –  avoid jargon or explaining the “why”, just state the task clearly.
  • Get eye contact when speaking so they are focused on listening actively. 
  • Praise positive listening with enthusiasm to motivate wanting to please parents. “Well done for sitting quietly – you’re learning to focus!”
  • Hand gestures or acting out tasks can reinforce the message for young children developing language skills. 
  • Be a good role model – children learn from watching parents follow the rules themselves respectfully.

With patience and practice, consistent, clear communication can help children understand what is being asked of them and want to comply. The goal is to make listening a positive experience.

How to Get Kids to Focus?

how to improve listening skills in kidsEven with the best communication, getting a child to pay attention long enough to follow instructions can be challenging. Here are some additional tips to capture their focus:

  • Keep tasks short. Leaving a small planned activity slot maintains engagement better than one long chore. 
  • Use a timer to make following the directions into a “game”. Knowing it will end can motivate sticking with it.
  • Incorporate movement where possible, like dance breaks between seasons. Wiggles help burn energy and refocus. 
  • Kids find related tasks to follow a theme engaging, like pretending to “help Mummy cook” with play tools. 
  • Offer incentives to look forward to afterwards, such as a story or special one-on-one time. 
  • Rotate favourites into the mix, such as their preferred form of art project on a given day.

Keeping kids engaged through techniques like these can support following all instructions, not just preferred activities. The end goal is to foster independent focus over time.

Developing Listening Skills

Really hearing and mentally processing instructions requires strong listening abilities, which also take practice to develop in children. Here are some ideas on how to improve listening skills in kids:

  • Play oral games like “Simon Says” that turn listening into an engaging challenge. 
  • Read books together daily and ask questions that require recalling story details to reinforce listening comprehension. 
  • When telling stories, pause for kids to finish the sentence, so they listen actively rather than tune out. 
  • In the car, play the licence plate game where children must listen for numbers and letters to spot. 
  • Give instructions to others around your child so they start associating listening with learning new things.
  • Practice listening despite distractions to build concentration muscles, such as conversing quietly amidst loud household noises.

Activities like these aim to strengthen focus and the ability to retain instructions through play properly. Mastering listening sets kids up well for following all kinds of directions.

The Importance of Discipline at Home

Learning to do as they are told also depends on discipline – both natural consequences of not listening and positive reinforcement for compliance. Discipline teaches accountability, and consistency is critical:


  • Follow through with pre-explained results each time an instruction is not heard. For instance, pausing an activity until ready to participate. 
  • Reward positive behaviour right away with a treat, cuddle or special praise so the connection is clear. “Thanks for helping me when I asked – that makes me happy!” 
  • Frequently acknowledge little acts of self-control, regardless of the outcome. “I see you’re trying hard to stay seated like I asked.” 
  • If mistakes happen, address just the behaviour, not the child. “I need you to pick up the toys now, not play anymore until they are cleaned away.”
  • Remain composed when disciplining so they learn emotional regulation from your calm behaviour. 

Routines and consequences impart that listening brings rewards, while not following rules logically has natural effects – teaching accountability that inspires better focus on instructions over time.

Assigning Age-Appropriate Tasks for Kids 

Children who feel trusted with helpful jobs are more eager to prove themselves by following directions. Giving age-appropriate tasks also fosters skills like:

  • Responsibility: For example, toddlers can help put books back in their boxes. 
  • Independence: Preschoolers enjoy little chores that make them feel part of the family, like setting the table.
  • Problem-solving: Tasks that allow creative flexibility sustain interest long-term better than rigid ones. 
  • Pride of ownership: Letting kids choose their particular duty, such as being the official pet feeder. 

Remember to keep jobs simple, demonstrate clearly, and praise all effort – not just perfect results. Feeling valued inspires kids to want to please those they love by happily doing as asked.

How to Give Directions Effectively

The way instructions are delivered hugely shapes response. Some best practices maximise the chances children will comply positively:

  • Get to their level so eye contact is easy, and they feel heard. 
  • Use a kind, upbeat tone to avoid being bossy or irritated. 
  • Provide one direction at a time, readying them mentally to focus between each. 
  • Involve them by allowing time to repeat the task, like a game of Simon Says.
  • Physically guide hand motions during demonstrations until independent mimicry sets in. 
  • Explicitly praise listening behaviour to reinforce it as the new “normal” response. 
  • End on a high note of thanks, hugs or smiles so compliance feels good rather than a chore.

Adopting an encouraging style helps children follow directions and sets patterns for responding respectfully as they grow.

How Tappy Toes Nursery Encourages Following Directions

At Tappy Toes Nursery, following directions is an essential daily skill we work on with children. Teachers use visual schedules, timers, songs, and consistent routines to reinforce listening and comprehension. We provide opportunities for children to practise following multi-step instructions during play, transitions, and care activities. Teachers model desired behaviours and offer positive reinforcement like praise and stickers when progress is made. We also evaluate each child’s developmental abilities and adjust our communication strategies to encourage growth. By partnering with parents, we strive to instil strong listening and focus skills in little ones that prepare them for future academic and life success. 


With the right strategies for following directions, encouragement, clear communication, engaging activities and consistent discipline – parents can successfully nurture skills that will last lifetimes. At Tappy Toes Nursery, we strive to give young children the tools they need to succeed as they develop vital life skills. Our positive nursery environment builds confidence in supervised play with others, focused activities, or daily routines. Working together, we can help spark self-belief as each small step leads them confidently towards fulfilling futures!


Leave a reply

fourteen − 8 =