How to Give Kids Effective Instructions
If you’ve ever tried to give your child instructions on how to do something, you know that it can be really challenging sometimes. Kids have a tendency to not listen, or they misunderstand what you are saying and asking them to do.
Figuring out how to give kids effective instructions can help avoid frustration from both parent and child, and lead to greater results.
Even though I feel like I “may” be getting better at it, it’s still incredibly frustrating when I give my kids instructions and they act as though they didn’t hear me, or they acknowledge me and then continue on with whatever it was they were doing like I don’t even exist.
Ummm… hello- yes, I’m Mommy, and yes, I’m speaking to you.
If this sounds familiar and you’re ready to try something new, here are some tips on how to effectively communicate with your kids, regardless of their age.
*This post may contain affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using this link. I only recommend products I love or would personally use.
What to do when kids won’t listen!
Use when/then statements.
Think about something like this: “When you have picked up and put away all the toys in the living room, then we can go outside and play”.
The idea behind when/then statements is that you are giving clear instructions with the expectation and understanding of what is going to happen next.
It will give your child a clear vision of why they need to complete the task you’ve asked them to complete.
In this example, your child will understand that WHEN their toys are picked up and put away, THEN they can go outside and play.
There is no question about your expectation and no question about what they’ll get when they do what you’ve asked them to do.
Avoid using negative language.
When giving instructions, it is important to avoid using negative language. This includes words like “don’t”, “stop”, and “no.”
Choosing words that encourage your child to do what you’re asking, such as “please” and “thank you”, might be the difference in whether they complete the task or not. Simply changing your words may make them more willing to comply with your instructions.
Have a set amount of time to complete a task- to a song or a timer.
Have you ever had a task you need to get finished, and you’re dragging your feet to get it done because who really wants to take care of the sink full of dishes?
Yeah, your kids can totally relate. Except they’re little and have little to no understanding of the importance of responsibility.
One of the best ways to teach your kids to complete important tasks is to teach them to “time” themselves by using a song.
There’s a reason that Barney used the clean-up song. It works.
For kids who are little, they take it as a game and WANT to try to get as much done in the amount of time the song is playing or being sung.
You can also use a timer if your child is better at seeing things. This visual timer for kids is going to allow them to see how much time they start with and then they can watch it as the time ticks away.
Do a pre-set, announced time reminder
I have talked many times about being the importance of clear communication. You need it in your marriage, with your kids, and honestly, just about any relationship you have.
Communication is key with any expectation you set up for another human being.
With your kids, having a pre-set, announced time reminder is going to help them know and be reminded that you’re expecting them to do something, and you’ve not only told them once but AT LEAST twice.
What does this look like?
You set up an expectation in the morning when they wake up.
“Jimmy, you need to get your clothes put into your drawers before lunch today. If it’s not done when I start making lunch, I’m going to remind you again, do you understand?”
Get acceptance from Jimmy that he understands what you’re expecting and that there will be a reminder before lunch if it’s not completed.
If it’s not completed when you start lunch, you remind him of your expectation, and then it would be a good time to play a song so he knows he needs to be completing the task.
The goal is that eventually, he takes responsibility on his own to complete the task without needing to be reminded.
With little kids, I think this is probably the most important thing you can do with and for your kids.
You need to TELL them what you want them to do, SHOW them how to do it, and then DO it together.
I think one of the best examples of this is cleaning up.
You can’t just tell your three-year-old that they need to clean their room.
You need to TELL them it’s time to clean their room. Then you need to SHOW them how to pick things up and put them away where they belong. Then, together for the first few times, you need to DO the action of putting things away where they belong.
In all my experiences, this is the best way to teach a kid to do anything.
Think about teaching. This is the EXACT example we use to teach students to be able to do just about anything.
“Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting” book
This one isn’t like, “all those other parenting books”.
I have found a lot of parenting books that I like, that I think offer advice for a variety of types of parents.
But, Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting is great for every parent.
If you’re at your wit’s end trying to get your kids to listen and follow instructions, or even just give you the time of day, do yourself a favor and read this book.
You’ll learn new ways to listen to your kids with the goal of them listening to you. Sometimes, as our kids get older, we forget to actually LISTEN to them. We don’t pay attention to their body language and sadly enough, sometimes even their subtle cues about how they feel in general.
If you’re looking for a totally new perspective on parenting, this book will help you get there.
Without a doubt, this is one of the best parenting strategies when trying to figure out how to give kids effective instructions. If you aren’t looking them in the eye, how on earth do you expect them to actually be listening?
Chances are, they aren’t. And then begins the cycle of over-correction and possibly even yelling because you didn’t take the time to have them look you in the eye and confirm they understood your expectations.
It’s simple. Have them look you in the eye and then confirm they understand your expectations.
Stop what you’re doing to give direction
Guys, we are busy parents. I often find myself passively giving instructions as I move on to my next task on my to-do list.
Then 5 minutes later when I come back to check and make sure my kids have completed the task I’ve asked them to do, they haven’t even stopped what they were doing to begin what I’ve asked them to do.
I bet that sounds WAY too familiar.
BUT, if we truly want our kids to learn, it starts with clear instructions and expectations for our kids and ourselves.
We need to take the time to set clear expectations with eye contact and an expectation of follow-up. If we aren’t doing that, then the chances of everyone becoming frustrated is about 100%.
The most important thing to remember when giving instructions is to stay positive. This can be difficult, especially if your child is not cooperating, but it is important to remain calm and patient.
If you get frustrated or angry, it will likely make the situation worse. Try to keep your tone of voice and your body language positive, even if your child isn’t doing what you’re asking them to.
You can figure out how to give kids effective instructions- with time and grace!
One of the worst things you can do is read this post and expect perfection.
This change in how you create and communicate expectations with your kids is going to take time- and that’s ok!
Give yourself and your kids grace and set realistic expectations of when they can successfully complete tasks by themselves.
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