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Giving Directions To Children: A Ten Step Guide

It is important when giving directions to do so in a way that will promote the best possible response in the child. 

Many children, particularly young ones, are cognitively immature compared to an adult. In other words, how they think, or process information is very different. It may take them longer to shift between doing what they want to do and doing what you want them to do. 
To give your child the best possible chance at learning to respond correctly when you ask him/her to do something, follow these simple steps: 

1. Get down to child's level - Bend down so you are eye-to-eye, face-to-face.

2. Make sure you have the child's attention - Eliminate distractions. Make sure you have eye contact unless the child has a disability that makes eye contact difficult, such as Autism. Say nothing until you have the child's full attention. 

3. Give clear, concise, and concrete directions - "Less" is often "More". Say only what needs to be said and nothing more. Give one direction in as few of words as possible and be specific. Instead of "Clean up your mess." Say, "Pick up the toys." 

4. Tell the child what to do, don't ask - Don't phrase your direction in a question. Instead of saying "Do you want to clean up, now?" say "It is time to clean up." 

5. Give visual or physical cues when possible - Making gestures, pointing in the right direction, or physically helping the child get started may eliminate a struggle.

6. Give wait time - Children's young brains often do not process information as quickly as ours do. I have worked with children who have needed up to 9 seconds to hear what I said and actually do what I asked! Count to ten before doing or saying anything else and repeat the direction once if necessary. 

7. Have the child repeat the direction - By having the child repeat the direction, you can be sure that they understood and the child is more likely to follow through. 

8. Have the child respond to the direction with "Yes (put in name)" - I do not know why this works, but it does. Some of the most defiant children I have worked with will do what I ask them to do if I also have them say "Yes, Miss Cathie." I believe it is because their thought process is changed from negative to positive without them even being aware of it. Here is how you do it: Tuck the "yes (name)" in at the end of the direction without making a big deal of it and without changing the tone of your voice. Example: "Pick up the toys, say yes Mom". Stand and wait for a response. If none comes, repeat "Say yes Mom". Do not go on until you get the "Yes, Mom". Once this is taught, the child will do it automatically. 

9. Stay calm, cool, & collected - If you become agitated, raise your voice, or show anger, your child will reflect that behavior back to you. As an experiment, try this: If your child is being loud, lower your voice to a whisper. My guess is that within minutes, your child will be whispering too. Staying calm will help your child stay calm. 

10. Offer choices when you can - Choices also eliminate many power struggles. Example: "You need to pick up the blocks. You can either do it now or you will have to do it while the other children are playing outside. What is your choice?" Or, "Do you want to pick up the red blocks or the green blocks first?"