Giving Directions to Children

helping-with-homeworkWhen we give a direction or instruction to a child, the child may or may not comply to the instruction.  If the child does not complete the instruction, the general assumption is that the child is willfully and purposefully being disobedient.  Sometimes this may be the case, and other times there may be other reasons as to why the child was unable to comply with the direction.

Before giving a direction, some questions to ask yourself are “In the past, has the child consistently complied to the direction in the way it was phrased?,” “Have I observed the child demonstrating the skills necessary to complete the direction on numerous occasions in the past?,” and “Have I observed the child demonstrating this skill in this particular environment/setting?”  If the answer to any of these questions is a no, then it is possible that the child has not mastered this skill, and is unable to complete the direction independently as opposed to being defiant.

If a child does not follow the first direction, make sure that you have the child’s attention when providing the direction and that you phrased the direction as it normally is presented to the child.  If you have not frequently observed the child complying with the direction in the past, then the child may not have mastered the skills and may need reminders or assistance.  If you are in a new location, there may be other factors that are limiting the child’s ability to comply (e.g., noise, fatigue, shyness, hot/cold, distraction, hunger, etc.).

To promote and foster a successful outcome, if a child does not comply to a direction independently, begin to think of possible reasons that may be preventing compliance.  Make sure to ask yourself the 3 questions described above.  Use this as a learning opportunity to further teach the skill to the child.  The more natural learning opportunities presented, the more practice of the skills.  Do not keep repeating the instruction, but instead assist and help the child to complete the direction/instruction.  Once completed, shower the child with praise and continue on with your day until the next learning opportunity arises.

Contributed by John-Paul Prakash, MA., BCBA, MFTI

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