Updated: Jan 19
Listening and following directions can be tricky for our kids. Do you ever feel like you tell your child to do something, but they stand there looking at you blankly until you say it a different way? Does it ever feel like you have to repeat yourself multiple times and you just end up doing it for them? Keep reading to learn why and learn tips to help your child follow directions better. Speech-language pathologists at Chatty Therapy are also available to help you support your child's development. Follow the button at the bottom of this post to get some professional help or get your questions answered!
Your child may not be listening to you because they have difficulty understanding what you want them to do. Aside from wanting to do what you asked, your child needs to know a lot of words and concepts to be able to follow what you said! They might not follow your instructions right away because they do not understand your words.
For example, if my daughter was running and screaming around the house and I yelled “Slow down! Be quiet!”, she might keep running and screaming because she does not understand what “slow” and “quiet” means! She may have heard me and may have wanted to do what I said, but those words flew right over her head and had no real meaning to her. If she had understood me, she may have followed my directions right away (although sometimes, we know toddlers have a mind of their own). She needs to understand what those words mean before she can even start trying to do what I wanted her to do.
Concepts Your Child Needs to Understand To Follow Directions
Here are some basic concepts and vocabulary your 2-3 year old should understand:
If your child already understands and can use all of these concepts, try targeting concepts in the next stage! You can start exposing your child to more complex concepts to continue challenging them and developing their language skills. These are concepts children 3-4 years old should know:
How to help your child learn new concepts (and follow directions)
These are some tips to teaching and reinforcing a new concept. These tips will help your child follow directions better and participate in more activities.
Provide multiple models and exposures to the concept
Emphasize the new word by saying it slowly and drawing it out
Show them the meaning of the words in different situations
Pair the concept with an opposite concept
Create an opportunity where your child can show their understanding
What does it look like?
Here is an example of some possible opportunities I could reinforce the concept of “slow” in my day. You can probably think of many other small moments in your day where you can model and show what “slow” means!
Starting in In the morning, when we’re still sleepy and walking slowly to the bathroom, I could say “We’re walking slowwww. We are tired”.
Then at breakfast, I could talk about that concept with my chewing. I could say “I’m chewing fast! I’m chewing slowwww”. This an example of tip #4 - We can try to pair the concept with it’s opposite. If I show examples of “slow” paired with examples of “fast” it can help my daughter understand the difference between the two words.
Let’s say after breakfast, we went grocery shopping and then to the park. While we’re driving, I could point out cars that are driving fast, and cars that are driving slow. I could talk about moments where we are driving fast on the road, and moments where we are driving slow in the parking lot.
Then at the park, we could spend some time running around together. We could run fast, and then walk slow. I could then take this chance to let my daughter practice listening and using these words in a safe and appropriate environment (rather than running around in the house). We could take turns choosing how we should move. I could ask her “What should we do next? Should we run fast or walk slooow??”.
These are activities that you probably already do with your child. In this example, we were able to provide so many different opportunities for my daughter to listen to the new concept of “slow” with regular moments such as walking to the bathroom, eating breakfast, riding in the car and running around in the park.
Understanding Comes First
We want to first build our children’s understanding of these concepts and vocabulary before expecting them to follow those directions. We also need to work on understanding before we can expect them to use the words verbally. Not only will these tips help them follow directions, but it will also support your child’s ability to use the words when they are talking about their thoughts and ideas. We want them to have a strong foundation of the word’s meaning so that they will try using it themselves to talk about their world. The more you can expose your child to these words the better! In the future, when my daughter is running around the house again, she might have an easier time understanding what I mean when I tell her to “slow down”!
Working on language and new concepts takes time and repetition. Don’t be discouraged if your child does not get it right away! They need multiple exposures and opportunities to learn. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone!
Chatty Therapy has wonderful speech-language pathologists who can give you more specific ideas on how to work with your child and tailor it to your daily routine. Or we can come into your home to help your child learn the concepts they need. Speech-language pathologists specialize in helping children understand others and express themselves better. If you are worried about your child’s ability to understand and follow directions, don’t hesitate to reach out or book a free 15-minute consultation. It may be helpful for us to do an assessment to identify specific concepts that your child could use more support with.