Following Directions: It's a Challenge!

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Following directions can be a challenge for any child, especially a child who has learning or attention issues. The ability to follow directions is a great skill in any environment. However, as a new school year approaches, it’s especially helpful for parents and educators to have a handful of effective strategies in place to make following directions a more seamless practice at home and in school. Read on to learn beneficial tips for helping your child follow directions.

  1. Ask for your child’s attention. Trying to give your child directions while he or she is not focused could result in failure for all parties. Start by asking for your child’s attention by saying “Please turn towards me, look and listen now". Some children have a hard time with nonverbal parts of language - having them look toward you and not just in the eye, takes that into account.

  2. Minimize Distractions. Once you have your child’s attention, you want to keep it! It can be hard for him to hear or focus on you if the TV is on or if he is texting a friend. Before giving directions, eliminate possible distractions by shutting off the TV or asking your child to put down his book or phone. Make sure he is looking towards you.

    You can model this behavior by giving your complete attention to your child when giving directions. This also communicates that what you are saying to your child is important.

  3. Speak Quietly. This can be hard! It may be tempting to speak louder or over your child if there is something you need to tell them. However, you may be able to hold her attention better if you speak in a quiet voice. Give directions in a calm, level tone. Your child may be able to concentrate better on the substance of what you are saying when she doesn’t have to process the tone and volume too.

  4. Use “Wait Time”. Wait time means waiting a three- to seven-second pause after asking a question or making a statement. Teachers often use wait time as a technique in the classroom. Research shows that kids respond better to what you say and respond more appropriately when they have some time to let it sink in. If your child does not respond to the question after the pause, it’s okay to repeat the question again.

  5. Check for Understanding. This is connected to wait time. Ask your child to repeat the directions back to you - encourage him to explain what you asked in his own words. This gives your child a chance to ask questions and also for you to clarify any misunderstandings.

  6. Tell, Don’t Ask. Many parents phrase directions as a question, not a statement, such as “Can you please go get dressed?”. Your child may think he has a choice about following these directions. Instead, phrase the directions as “Please go get dressed.” This slight alteration can make a big difference.

  7. Give Directions One at a Time. You will likely have more success if you give your child directions, one at time. Many kids with learning and attention issues have a harder time following a sequence of instructions. For example, if you say: “Please go get dressed, put your laundry in the hamper, make your bed and brush your teeth”, your child may get stuck after the getting dressed part. Give one direction at a time; once the task is successfully completed, you can move on to communicating the next piece.

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Every student has a different learning style. For an individualized plan customized to your child's needs, please contact Dana Aussenberg at or email