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Your child is more likely to do what you have asked if your instructions are reasonable and easily understood. The following are some tips for giving instructions to your child.

Try not to give your child too many instructions. Save instructions for things that you really care about, like safety issues.  For example your child must hold your hand when you cross the road. Rather than giving your child instructions try to make cooperation fun, by turning boring activities into challenges. “How many toys can you put away before the timer goes off?”

The following are some tips for when you do need to give your child an instruction:

  • Get your child’s attention - Get down to your child’s eye level and touch them gently on the shoulder.  This can help focus their attention.
  • Give one instruction at a time.  When you give your child more than one instruction at one time, your child may forget, not understand, or feel overwhelmed. For example “Go upstairs, wash your face and brush your teeth” is actually three instructions. 
  • Give reasons. It can help if your child understands why you want them to do something. For example, explain why you want them to hold your hand while crossing the road. Keep reasons short and simple.
  • Let your child know what you want them to do rather than not to do. Rather than “don’t run” say “please walk.”
  • Keep it clear and positive. When your child tries standing on their chair during mealtimes rather than saying “Be careful!” say “Please sit with your bottom on the chair.”
  • Keep it simple. When you are asking them to do something, use simple words they will understand and break tasks into smaller steps. You could ask your child: “Please put your teddy bears back on the shelf” rather than “Put your toys away.”
  • Be polite and respectful. For example, start directions with the word “please.” Ask your child to do something in a calm, firm voice with no yelling.
  • Don’t state an instruction as a question. For example don’t say “Will you go and brush your teeth?” This can be confusing to children. Instead say ‘please brush your teeth’.
  • Make sure your child can do what you’re asking. Toddlers for example are unlikely to be able to eat their dinner without making some mess. Telling your child to stop crying if they are worried about going to nursery or school for the first time will not help to reassure them.  
  • Remember to give your child time to do what you have asked.
  • Praise your child for following your instructions or consider giving a consequence if they don’t.

If you give your child praise and encouragement when they do what you ask they are more likely to do what you ask next time.