The ability to follow instructions is a crucial skill for your child to effectively function at home, day-care/school and in the community (e.g., swimming lessons, a friend’s house or at the park). When your child can follow instructions, they are more likely to complete everyday tasks effectively and learn new skills.
What steps are needed to follow instructions?
- Attention and focus – being able to attend to the instruction initially and then remain focused to carry out what is required
- Receptive Language – understanding the vocabulary, concepts and also the grammar or wording used in the sentence
- Working memory- holding and remembering the information throughout the task and making changes as required
- Motor Planning and Motor skills – being able to plan the necessary physical steps to complete the task and then execute them
How can I help my child with following instructions?
- Get their attention first – Call your child’s name and establish eye contact before giving the direction. Use physical touch like a tap on the shoulder if necessary
- Use simple language and keep it short – Use vocabulary that your child understands and keep your instructions short enough so they can follow them. If your child struggles with a 2-part instruction, keep it to simple 1 step instructions e.g., ‘Get your shoes’ instead of ‘Get your shoes and then your hat’
- Use direct language– Make sure what you are asking clearly states what they need to do. For example, rather than say ‘would you like to get ready for the bath now?’ say ‘Go to the bathroom please’
- Repeat the instruction again and highlight the key words – for example ‘Get your shoes and bag please. Shoes and bag’
- Ask for repetition – check that your child has understood the instruction by asking them to repeat it back
- Use visual cues – Provide a written schedule or list of what the child needs to do. For those that can’t read yet, showing an object, single picture card or a visual schedule showing the steps can also be helpful. For example, if asking your child to get dressed and then pack their bag, you could position the clothes and the bag near each other as prompt, write the steps down or have a picture of each step.
There can be many reasons a child has difficulty following instructions, from hearing problems, delayed language, or challenges with attention or behaviour.
If you have any concerns about your child’s ability to follow instructions, or any aspects of their development, please contact us and speak to one of our specialists.