Help Your Child Follow Directions

Here are 10 tips from Amanda Morin at

[for O-G tutoring in Columbus OH, see contact info below]

  1. Ask for your child’s attention. You might say “Look toward me please… I need you to listen now.” You are asking your child to look toward you, not into your eyes, which can be uncomfortable for many children.  You can make it easier by moving into your child’s line of sight.
  2. Minimize distractions.  Once you have your child’s attention, you want to keep it. Turn off screens and make sure he’s looking toward you. Model this behavior by giving your child your full attention when giving instructions: this also shows that what you are saying is important.
  3. Speak quietly. You may capture your child’s attention better by speaking in a softer voice. Give directions in a calm, even tone. He can focus more easily on the substance when he doesn’t have to process tone and volume, too.
  4. Use “wait time.”  Teachers often use “wait time;” so do educational TV shows for kids. “Wait time is that three-to-seven-second pause after you say something or ask a question. Research shows that kids process better what you have to say — and respond to it appropriately — when they can let it sink in.  (If your child doesn’t answer or follow directions, it’s OK to repeat what you said.)
  5. Check for understanding. Checking for understanding goes hand in hand with giving “wait time.” Ask him to repeat what you said.  Or ask him to explain your directions in his own words.  It gives your child a chance to ask questions, if he has any. It also give you a chance to clarify in case he misunderstood something.
  6. Tell; don’t ask. Many parents phrase directions as questions: “Would you set the table, please?” Your child may think he has a choice about following directions. Rephrase what you said, so you are telling instead of asking. “Come set the table, please,” can make a big difference.
  7. Give instructions one at a time. Younger kids with learning and attention issues may have trouble following a sequence of steps.  You  may say, “Please set the table, wash your hands and tell your sister it’s time to eat.” Your child might get stuck after “setting the table.” Give directions one at a time when possible.  (if you can’t break directions into steps, try to group things together in ways that make sense. For example, “While you’re upstairs washing your hands, please tell your sister it’s time to eat.”
  8. Number your directions. Help your child follow multi-step directions by actually putting a number to them.  Typically, people can hold up to four things at a time in working memory. This is easier when they are connected, or there’s a way to make them more memorable.  For example, say “There are three things you need to do,” or use words like ‘first,’ second,’ ‘then,’ next,’ and ‘last.’ That helps your child keep all steps in mind, or at least remember there’s more to the directions than what he’s completed.
  9. Be precise in what you say. Kids who have problems with planning and organization, or language, may have trouble with vague directions.  You may think your child isn’t following the directions to clean his room.  But maybe he’s having trouble figuring our how to get started. So be specific: you may get better results by saying “Please put your laundry away, pick up the trash from the floor and make your bed” instead of “Clean your room.”
  10. Use visual cues. Kids who have language processing issues can have a hard time following spoken directions. Consider using visual cures as well. For example, point out what needs to be cleaned. You might also demonstrate what you’re asking him to do: “Please set the rest of the table the way I’m setting this spot.”

Source: Amanda Morin
A parent advocate and former teacher, Amanda Morin is the proud mom of kids with learning and attention issues and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

See this and more wonderful stuff at

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email


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