Listening and following instructions is a learnt behaviour, as is not listening. Avoid power struggles and keep positivity around following instructions by following these simple strategies.

These strategies can be summed up in two words – connecting and engaging cooperation.

It is not coincidental these are also the important factors for effective communication with anyone of any age. Somehow though, while we connect and engage cooperation with our colleagues, partners and friends, we forget about doing that with our children.


 1.    Get your child's full attention and connect with her.

Chances are you wouldn't yell instructions to a colleague across a work space. It won't work with your chid either. Give him or her the respect that you would give a colleague.

Get down to her level.

Kneel or sit next to your child. Make eye contact.

Use gentle physical touch - hold his hands, put your hand on his shoulder, back, arm.

Don’t start talking until you have his full attention.

Connect with your child by acknowledging what he is doing and that you understand he may want to continue playing.

"Wow, that is an awesome garage you have made. Would you like to play with it tomorrow?

Brain research shows that if we feel connected to a person we are more open to them and more likely to be cooperative. By connecting you are making it easier for your child to be able listen to you.


2.    Give clear and concise instructions.

Your child will zone out if you lecture, or give long winded instructions and explanations.  

Make instructions short and clear, by using as few words as possible.

“It is bath time now. Put the trucks away sweetie,” will have more impact and communicates clearly what you are asking your child to do.

Would you like to tidy up in here now sweetie?" is giving your child a choice and doesn't communicate clearly what you are asking your child to do.

Don’t ask a question if your child actually doesn’t have a choice.

Be realistic in your expectations and instructions! I believe a one part instruction is manageable for a 1 year old, two part instruction for a 2 year old and so forth...

Put your trucks away.

Put your trucks away and get your pyjamas.

3. Motivate by engaging cooperation.

No one likes instructions shouted at them. Try this with your partner or in your work place, you will see any motivation to be cooperative go straight down!
In fact, you will build resistance.

Children are the same. You want to engage their cooperation, not demand it.

Be calm, positive and firm with your words and tone. Understand that your child may be engaged in doing something else, and a bath is possibly the last thing on his mind.

Engage cooperation by making it a game, fun and worth while. Use a song, a silly voice or a puppet every now and again to make it fun.

Give reinforcement and encouragement, and your child will learn that listening and following instructions can be worthwhile.

“You tidied up your cars so quickly when I asked, I think we will have time for a story before your bath!”.

4.  Don’t repeat, repeat and repeat.

If you tell your child over and over to do something, they will learn not to listen.

That’s when you will get frustrated, exasperated, and start counting down to punishment.

If he did not listen the first time, stay calm, gain his attention again by kneeling or sitting close. Make eye contact.

State your instruction firmly and follow through.

5. Follow through. Make it clear that you mean what you say.

Always follow through. Every time.

Gain your child's attention again by being at their level, state your instruction again and guide him or her to do it.

 “It is time to put the cars away now.” Guide his hands to pick up and put the cars away. That way he understands what you want him to do, and that you will follow through.

Treat your child as you would anyone else. Connect and engage cooperation to create positivity around following instructions and your child will learn that listening and following instructions can be fun and worthwhile.

See our blogs Why is my toddler doing that? and The one secret weapon that works to diffuse temper tantrums.

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