How to Help Young Kids Follow Direction

Helping Young Children Follow Direction

Parenting toddlers sometimes gets a bad rap. Toddlers have got a few things working agains them: they are developmentally wired to want to investigate ALL the things, their brains are not well developed to be conscious of things like impulses, time management, and danger, AND they’ve just learned the power of “no”.

It is sometimes a trifecta calling for impatience and tantrums. (for parents and kids respectively)

BUT, they are wonderful little people learning about our world and how to be a part of it. They don’t mean to cause problems. They don’t intend to frustrate us. Even when they are screaming “no” in the middle of the grocery store aisle and we are dying of embarrassment…they aren’t doing it on purpose.

So, how do we work with our toddlers instead of struggling against them?

We remember that we are the confident leaders and give clear direction. We follow through with our limits in a consistent manner. And we show love and understanding through all of it.

I have found these three things to be so helpful as I work through parenting a toddler. I wrote about how changing my perspective on toddler behavior has helped immensely. But how do I actually get my daughter to follow my directions? This is the practical application that I’ve been working on.

Say it once. It is oh-so-easy to fall into the trap of repeating yourself.

“Daughter, put your coat and shoes in the basket.” Continues playing.

“Sweetheart, mama said put your coat and shoes away.” More playing, maybe a glance my way.

I start checking my phone and wait a bit. More playing. “Put your coat and shoes away now.” Does not follow direction.

This is a recipe for frustration (on my part), and it teaches my daughter the very opposite of what I want to teach her. She doesn’t have to listen when I tell her to do something.

We sometimes give half-hearted direction, or we are distracted by needing to get dinner prepared, or we figure she’s busy playing we’ll tell her next time. But then what is the point of saying it at all? Better not to have put out an ignored directive than to give one that will not be completed.

So, instead we have to move to step two.

Help her listen. She can hear you, and she probably knows exactly what she needs to do. But she is investigating! She wants to know what you are going to do. Here’s how it could go down instead.

“Daughter, put your coat and shoes in the basket.” Continues playing.

“Oh, it looks like you are having a hard time listening. Let me help you put your coat and shoes in the basket.” Hands daughter a shoe. Daughter might put it away and help with the rest of the process. Or she might continue to resist. If she continues to resist:

“Wow, it looks like you don’t feel like putting your coat and shoes away. It is hard to clean up after ourselves sometimes. Here, we will do it together.” And then you might physically need to hold her hand and walk over to put the shoes and coat away.

Yes, sometimes this feels like a LOT more work. But the beauty is she learns so much. She learns that you mean what you say. She learns that you will help her when she’s having a hard time. She learns to follow your direction.

And all these little conversations and interactions will build upon each other, leading to her getting better and better at following direction!

If you’re interested in reading more, I recommend this blog and this book!
How to Help Young Children Follow Direction