There was a joke traveling around the internet from Carrie On Y’all that said, “Maybe if I start yelling ‘Get your shoes on!’ the night before, we could get to school on time the next day.” Honestly, the struggle is real. Using following directions activities is one way to discover the answer to the golden question: how to make kids listen. But…
There’s more to it than that.
Teaching kids to follow directions isn’t as simple as doing a listening activity for kids, watching fairy dust shower from above, and seeing your kids transform into magical listeners from the Kingdom of Perfecto.
Just yesterday I was getting ready to take my son to school. He insisted—like life or death insisted—that he needed to wear his green shoes.
So I helped him find his green shoes, laid them out on the floor, and then realized I made a horrible mistake.
He shook his head and said, “No, green shoes, mom. Nooo!” In exactly two minutes, the green shoes went from being my complaining child’s most prized possession to the most horrible and disgusting shoes one could don. Genius tricks, where are you?
It happened again at dinner.
Fast forward to dinner time, and we went into the same nonsensical discussion over spaghetti. He was eating his spaghetti, so I said, “You like spaghetti.”
Sounds innocent enough, right?
To which he replied, “No, spaghetti. Nooo!” I won’t get into all the details, but we circled around in conversation for about 5 minutes before he changed his mind about spaghetti and finished his dinner.
Teaching kids to follow directions…let’s simplify.
It might feel exhausting at best to teach your kids to follow directions. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. Let’s simplify using 5 actionable listening tricks.
Sharing a set of instructions before you have your child’s full attention is like speaking Japanese to German preschoolers. It just doesn’t work.
You know you’ll have your child’s full attention when you have two things:
- Eye contact
- Eyes level (get down to the child’s level).
Be short and specific.
Kids tend to hear a lot of conversational white noise when adults are speaking to them. Say exactly what needs to be said for your child to follow your directions. Trim everything else out.
Instead of… “Hurry up. We gotta get out the door for this appointment. Put your shoes on.”
Try… “Shoes please.” Or “Put your shoes on.”
Use “wait time.”
This is a great strategy that I learned from a teacher. After giving a set of instructions to your kids, pause for 3-7 seconds to allow their brain to process and apply the information. Research shows kids are more likely to follow directions if you give them “wait time” or a hearty pause.
As adults, we are used to processing information much quicker, but kids…they take time.
Think of it this way: Keeping realistic expectations and waiting is the difference between you giving up and throwing your latte in the air vs. you calmly taking a sip of your latte while you employ “wait time.”
Unless you are offering a choice, don’t ask.
If your directions aren’t up for negotiation, keep that door closed with a lock. Preferably a deadbolt. Offering choices is a fabulous way to help end power struggles and enjoy a happier home. But…
Everything in life is not always a choice. If you can’t offer a choice within a parental boundary you feel good about, give instructions as a statement, rather than a question.
Instead of… “Can you put your shoes on please?”
Try… “Put your shoes on please.” Or “Shoes please.”
Or if you’d like to offer a choice, say, “Green shoes or red shoes?”
Practice using following directions activities.
In order to build great listening skills, kids need a lot of practice…A LOT. Which is totally understandable because I take a lot of practice too before I can get good at anything. I could tell you a few stories about 5 years’ worth of burnt dinner rolls, but that’s a story for another day.
Following directions activities for kids.
There are several good ‘ole fashioned standby games to play with kids to help them 1) Listen and hear what you are instructing and 2) Actually follow the directions you shared. I will list them briefly here:
One person is Simon or Elmo or Dora or Spiderman or Teacher or Whoever, and this person is the “leader.” Simon gives a set of instructions and everyone else follows. The person who doesn’t follow the instructions is “out.” And the person who follows the instructions throughout the game, wins Simon Says.
Red Light, Green Light.
One person is the leader who calls out “Red Light” or “Green Light.” When the leader calls out “Red Light,” everyone stops. When the leader calls out “Green Light,” everyone goes. Anyone who doesn’t stop or freeze during “Red Light” is out.
Follow the Leader.
Take a walk around your house or outside and whatever you (or the leader) does, everyone else must follow. This is a great game to allow your child to be the leader and have you follow your child. It’s a perfect opportunity to model following directions for your child!
3 more must-try activities…
Try this map game and help your kids work their way through the grid following the directions given. Practice counting and using the words left, right, forward, and backward.
Do one of these four visual directions games with your kids. This is perfect for preschoolers and above! Have your kids follow the set of picture instructions to complete the activity. Brilliant!
If you have kids who are old enough to play a board game, try this Lego Game to help your kids practice reading directions and following them.
Don’t forget the most important tip.
With kids, visual directions are so important! You can make life simpler and fun using visual directions for your kids, such as a printable daily schedule for kids…
- Bedtime routine cards
- Morning routine cards
- Mealtime routine cards
Using routines is a great way to breed cooperation and help your kids learn to follow directions. It’s also a great way to avoid yelling “Green shoes!” ten times every morning or “Eat your dinner!” six times every evening.
And most importantly, it’s a great way to avoid throwing your hands up in the air, spilling your latte and giving up on teaching your kids to listen. Because spilled coffee…well, let’s not go there.
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