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Doesn't Follow Directions

What to do:

Self-Talk. Say to yourself, "I don't like it when my child ignores me or doesn't follow directions I give her. But I can stand it and teach her how to listen."

Empathy. Tell yourself, "We all want to have some control over our world. I don't always like anyone telling me what to do either, so I think I understand how my son feels."

Teach. Tell yourself, "My child doesn't know that it's important to be respectful when someone asks her to do something. I need to teach her the importance of listening, cooperation and following directions."

When Children or Teens Are Breaking Rules and Hurting Themselves. Some parents complain that their older child or teen is breaking rules by sneaking out at night, using drugs or alcohol, cutting herself, or engaging in behavior that is dangerous to her health and wellbeing. If you have a child of any age who is engaging in this kind of behavior, contact your healthcare provider to get a referral to a mental health professional. These behaviors need intensive intervention to prevent them from escalating and getting worse. The goal? Get help sooner, rather than waiting for the problem to get bigger.

Teach Empathy with Positive Attention. When your child ignores you, doesn't listen or doesn't do what you ask, say in a calm voice, "How do you think I feel when you don't pay attention to what I'm saying or run away from me when I am talking to you? How would you feel if I did that to you?" Listen to his answers and tell him how glad you are that you can talk about your feelings. Explain why: "We want to be polite and make people feel respected. Ignoring them or not listening when they are talking is not polite and is disrespectful." When he does listen and pay attention, praise that behavior by saying, "Thanks for listening. I feel so happy when you pay attention to what I'm saying."

Make a Routine. When you do the same things in the same order every day, your child knows what to expect and is less likely to ignore you and your instructions. For example, help him get his clothes and shoes on when he's just getting started getting dressed by himself. As your child grows in his ability to put on her dress or pants, shirt or socks, help her, until she wants to and can do it herself. The important things are to make it a routine, something done in the same order every night and morning. That makes getting dressed a predictable and fun part of waking up or going to sleep-not a battle to be fought. HINT: Put your child's clothes or pajamas out on the table or somewhere where he can see them in the morning (or evening, for pajamas), so the choices are already made and just getting dressed is the job, not choosing clothes!)

Give Simple, Clear Directions. Be as specific as possible about what you want your child to do. Make suggestions but don't criticize what she's done. For example, say, "Please pick up your blocks now and put them in the block box," rather than, "You need to pick up this room."

Show Gratitude. Encourage doing what you ask by letting your child know how much you appreciate it. For example, when you ask her to pick up the balls and she does it, say, "Thank you for picking up all of the balls off of the floor. Then Grandma won't slip on them!"

Praise Progress. Be a cheerleader as your child takes steps toward completing your requested task. For example, say, "I like the way you're starting to put those toys away."

Use Grandma's Rule. Say, "When you've gotten your jacket on, then I'll push you on the swing," or, "When you've washed your hands, we will have lunch."

Make Eye Contact. Make sure your child is looking at you when you give instructions. Say, "Please look at me, so I know you are paying attention."

Repeat Back Instructions. After you've given your instructions, ask your child to repeat them back to you, so you know she understands what you want her to do.

Play Beat-the-Clock. When your child says "No" when you ask him to pick up the markers, for example, ignore the "No", and set the timer for 3 minutes on your phone. Say, "Let's see if you can put your markers in the box before the timer rings! Wow! You're really hurrying. You're going to beat the timer!"

Or, if she won't get dressed for school, set a phone timer for two minutes and say, "Let's see if you can beat the clock getting your shirt on." This "game" motivates her to get a job done while having fun in the process, a lesson we all want to practice throughout our lives!

What not to do:

Repeat the Request. Some children love to argue when they've been asked to do something. To reduce arguing time, simply repeat the request. Your child will soon learn that arguing is a two-person game and you aren't going to play.

Don't Get Angry. Getting angry when your child doesn't listen doesn't teach him how to listen to you. It just creates teaches him to get mad when things don't go his way-not a lesson you want him to learn.

Don't Threaten. When your child repeatedly ignores your requests, don't say, "If you don't pay attention to me right now, I'm going to take all of your toys and throw them in the trash!" This threat doesn't teach him to listen and do what you ask. In addition, it models bullying someone to get what you want-the model that you don't want him to follow to get his needs and wants met.

Don't Punish Your Child for Not Following Directions. Teaching your child how to do something instead of punishing her for not doing it, helps her learn what you want her to do instead of focusing on her behavior that is not acceptable.

The authors and Raised with Love and Limits Foundation disclaim responsibility for any harmful consequences, loss, injury or damage associated with the use and application of information or advice contained in these prescriptions and on this website. These protocols are clinical guidelines that must be used in conjunction with critical thinking and critical judgment.