Giving Directions

Laura Mathisen, M.S., BCBA, Supervisor of Behavioral Education

Sometimes it can be difficult to get kids to listen to your directions, so it may seem like a constant battle between you and your child. The simplest directions may turn into a huge headache. Here are a few simple pointers that may make it more likely that your child will listen to your directions:

  • Give one direction at a time and keep directions short and simple. Try to limit directions to 4-5 words. For some kids, 1-3 word directions may be the limit.
  • Make sure your directions do not imply that following the directions is a choice the child can make. Give directions as STATEMENTS in a firm tone of voice rather than QUESTIONS.
  • Specifically identify what you want the child to do.
  • Make sure you have the child’s attention. Try to be within arm’s reach and at his/her eye level.
  • Use do instead of don’t statements Give directions so that you are telling your child what he/she should be doing instead of what he/she shouldn’t be doing. 
  • Use gestures. Gestures such as pointing may help your child understand what you are asking them to do.
  • Do not begin the instructions with “Let’s…” If you are planning on helping your child with instructions, you can use let’s, but otherwise try to avoid using let’s.
  • Reward following directions!  We want to make sure that compliance earns more attention and positive consequences than noncompliance! 

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