Following Instructions | How to get kids to listen without yelling

Have you wondered what the secret is to how to get a child to listen and follow instructions? We know! It’s the behavior skill of Following Instructions. Following Instructions teaches a child to hear what you’re asking them to do, complete what they’ve been asked, and report back when it is done. How to follow instructions is something that children need to learn how to do as it is a skill they will use their entire life as much of life will be spent following directions.

How to get kids to listen without yelling can be tricky in the beginning as you use the steps of Following Instructions. Following Instructions will benefit both you and your child. Using the steps means you will spend less yelling or nagging to get your children to clean their room, do their chores, or finish their homework. It will also make your child’s life better as they will get in trouble less–both at home and at school. When your child can complete tasks efficiently, and without complaint, it will allow more time as a family to have fun and strengthen your relationships.

The steps of Following Instructions are:
Step 1. Get your child’s attention
Step 2. Give a simple, clear, descriptive instruction.
Step 3. Child says “ok,” and immediately does the task.
Step 4. Child returns to the parent and reports when the task is finished.

Many parents have a hard time with Step 2. When we finally get our child’s attention, we often end up telling them EVERYTHING we need them to do. Too many instructions at once make it hard for your child to know what to do first or precisely what you want them to do. Telling your child, “I need you to do your homework, clean the bathroom, and gather the library books,” is too much information for your child to process. They don’t know if they are to gather all library books or just theirs. Does clean the bathroom mean put away everything, or are they to clean everything? Should they do those things first or finish their homework? Instead, you should give your child one, simple, detailed instruction at a time. “you need you to do your homework,” becomes “before dinner, you need to finish your reading homework.” “Clean the bathroom,” becomes “put away all the stuff and wipe down the counter.” “Gather the library books,” becomes “find all your library books and place them by the garage door.” By breaking it down into manageable pieces, it increases the likelihood that your child will complete the task.

The actual steps of Following Instructions are simple. It’s getting both you and your child into the habit that’s the challenge. To make Following Instructions a pattern in your family, use these simple tips.

Print out the steps of the skill and place the steps somewhere visible. Seeing the steps will help your child remember them and use them.

Get your child involved. Involving your child in the process makes them more likely to want to learn and practice the skill.

Give your child a reason that is meaningful to them to learn the skill of Following Instructions. A reason that is more meaningful to them could be reduced chores or timeout, more time to play, etc.

Practice at neutral time. Practicing at a neutral time makes learning the skill fun and encourages your child to actually use the skill.

Start by practicing with something easy for your child to do. Easy things help them understand the steps and gives them confidence that they can master the skill.

If your child is having difficulty with a task, break it down into smaller steps.

Practice until your child has mastered the situation before moving on to something more challenging.

After practicing the same situation several times, tell your child you will ask them to do something later that day or the next day to see if they remember the steps. This prepares them to practice it at a later time.

Always praise your child when they do the steps of Following Instructions correctly. This will encourage your child to continue using the steps and making Following Instructions a habit.

Changes in your family won’t happen overnight. If you are consistent with using the steps, they will happen. Eventually, your child will do what you ask on the first or second time instead of the 10th or 11th time and won’t that be a game-changer when it happens?!?

On Smarter Parenting, you’ll find following directions games and activities as well as other resources for implementing Following Instructions.

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