Do you ever feel like you are a broken record, repeating instructions over and over again, to no avail, since it feels like your young child won’t follow your instructions anyway? Or perhaps they start to follow your instructions, but get distracted along the way, needing constant redirection. There are so many ways this situation plays out for families. I’ll bet your child isn’t (always) intentionally ignoring you or avoiding the request, although surely this occurs some of the time. Read on for some simple but effective strategies to communicate clearly with your little one.
1. Give time warnings. Most young children struggle with transitions. Try giving your child a heads up, “In five minutes we are going to change your diaper.” They may not understand what five minutes actually means, but they will learn over time that this notice means that the diaper is getting changed soon.
2. Get on their level. The percentage of time a directive works from across the room, while a child is playing, is nearly zero. They may hear their name, turn for a split second, and appear to have understood, but I’d bet good money it ends up a failed attempt. Instead, take the time to walk over to them, get down on their level physically, and get eye contact if possible. This creates space for them to focus on you and really hear the instruction.
3. Keep directives simple- and don’t make them an option! Often we phrase directives as questions, which imply an option and muddle the message with extra words. Read these out loud: “Sweetie, can you please put on your shoes? It is time to go to grandma’s house.” vs. “Sweetie, put shoes on.” The second is much clearer and easier for a young child’s brain to process.
4. Wait. Give them time to process what you have asked them to do. This is crucial. Our adult brains process much faster than a young child’s. So while it may seem that they are taking forever to follow your clear, simple directive, it may be that their brains are still processing the request. By delivering another request before they’ve processed the first, you’re tripping them up, and making matters more complex than they need be.
Let’s run through a quick example: You want your child to come to the kitchen for lunch. They are playing in the living room. You pop into the living room, get down to their level, and say, “Honey, in five minutes it’s lunch time.” They nod. You go back into the kitchen. In a few minutes you come back out, get down to their level and say, “It’s lunch time, kitchen please!” And you wait right there next to them and see if they process and follow your instruction. If they don’t, you can repeat it and gently take their hand while talking about the delicious foods they are about to eat. Chances are high that with consistency and clarity, they will be much more likely to follow your lead.
*If you are still struggling with this after implementing these strategies, please reach out via our contact page. Send us your struggle, and we’ll help you troubleshoot.