5 Tips for Teaching Children to Follow Verbal Instructions

5 Tips for Helping Children follow Verbal Instructions

girl with fenceThis scene happens frequently in our house:

Me: “Mouse, please go upstairs, make your bed, pick up the clothes on the floor, and bring down your laundry.”

Mouse starts obediently up the stairs, gets about halfway up, and stops: “What did you want me to do?”

Me: “Mouse, please go upstairs, make your bed, pick up the clothes on the floor, and bring down your laundry. Now, what did I say?”

Mouse: “ Go upstairs, make my bed, pick up clothes, and bring down laundry.”

Again, she starts up the stairs and maybe even does one of the things before saying, “What did you say?”

Frustrating! For both of us.

I used to think she was incredibly absent-minded. I would give her instructions and try to hold her accountable for following them, but it was clear that, frequently, she truly didn’t remember what I had said.

Then, two years ago, I went to Judi Munday’s session on teaching children with communication problems because I was looking for some ideas for communicating better with Buggle. I was much surprised to hear Judi describe Mouse when she was describing a child with auditory processing problems.

I realized that when I give Mouse verbal instructions it is as if I am speaking in fast forward while her brain/ear connection is taking in the information at half-speed. She can repeat what I’ve said because her brain/mouth connection works just fine, but even when she repeats it back to me, the information doesn’t stick in her memory.

So what do I do? How do I help her learn to process auditory input? She will need to learn to compensate since we live in an auditory world.

Here are five things that help:

1. Add physical input to the auditory input. As I give her a set of instructions, I lightly squeeze a finger for each step that she needs to follow. When we drill math facts, I take her hand and tap the table with it for each number.

2. I post lists for her where she can check to see if she’s done everything–a clean bedroom checklist, a well-swept dining room checklist, and so on.

3. Routines help to eliminate the need for instructions. She knows that she is to make her bed before coming down in the morning and that is one less set of instructions to have to process.

4. I identify and discuss the challenge with her and try to help her find ways of coping that work.

5. And I try to be patient. I try to remember that she really does have to work at this and isn’t deliberately being difficult or lazy.

It’s a process, and I do see some progress, but expect that we will be working on this for many years!

This post originally appeared on the blog of the Home Educators Association of Virginia and is used with permission.

Author: Kyndra Steinmann

Kyndra Steinmann blogs at Sticks, Stones and Chicken Bones about living in a houseful of young children, special needs, discipling hearts, and abundant grace! As a homeschool graduate, she has an especial burden to encourage mothers to know and enjoy their children. Follow her on Facebook, and Pinterest.