Better Listening

7 Core Following Directions Activities for Kids That’ll Improve Listening

Inside: Quick and easy following directions activities for kids that will help them practice self-control, emotional regulation and improve listening skills.

There was a joke traveling around years ago from Carrie On Y’all that said, “Maybe if I start yelling ‘Get your shoes on!’ the night before, we could get to school on time the next day.”

Honestly, the struggle is real.

Kids need A LOT of practice to learn basic life skills.

Mother and child playing a game with pinwheel and blindfold. Text overlay: "7 core following directions activities"

Following directions activities can support better listening skills in your child.

Teaching kids to follow directions isn’t as simple as doing a listening activity for kids, watching fairy dust shower from above, and seeing your kids transform into magical listeners.

Several years ago I was getting ready to take my son to school. He insisted—like life or death insisted—that he needed to wear his green shoes.

So I helped him find his green shoes, laid them out on the floor, and then realized I made a horrible mistake.

He shook his head and said, “No green shoes, mom. Nooo!”

In exactly two minutes, the green shoes went from being my complaining child’s most prized possession to the most horrible and disgusting shoes one could don.

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Teaching kids to follow directions – let’s simplify.

1. Connection first. Attention follows.

A few brief moments using SAY WHAT YOU SEE®, where you describe what your child is thinking, doing, feeling or saying, makes a big difference. This is the building block of connection, and when kids feel connected to you, they are for more likely to cooperate.

It might sound something like, “You’re drawing a picture with big green squares and red lines.”

No brainer, right? And yet, I still find myself talking to my kids without taking a brief moment for connection.

Sharing a set of instructions before you briefly connect with your child is like speaking foreign language. It can fall flat.

I know I have my child’s full attention when I have two things:

  • Eye contact
  • Eyes level (get down to the child’s level).
end power struggles FB

2. Be short and specific.

Kids tend to hear a lot of conversational white noise when adults are speaking to them. Say exactly what needs to be said for your child to follow your directions. Trim everything else out.

Instead of… “Hurry up. We gotta get out the door for this appointment. Get your coat lets go.”

Try… “Coat please.” Or, “You’re missing a coat.”

3. Use “wait time.”

This is a great strategy that I learned from a teacher. After giving a set of instructions to your kids, pause for 3-7 seconds to allow their brain to process and apply the information. Research shows kids are more likely to follow directions if you give them “wait time” or a hearty pause.

As adults, we are used to processing information much quicker, but kids…they take time.

Think of it this way: Keeping realistic expectations and waiting is the difference between you giving up and throwing your tea in the air vs. you calmly taking a sip of your tea while you employ “wait time.”

overwhelmed mom FB

4. Unless you are offering a choice, don’t ask.

If your directions aren’t up for negotiation, keep that door firmly closed. Offering choices is a fabulous way to help end power struggles and enjoy a happier home.

But…everything in life is not always a choice. If you can’t offer a choice within a parental boundary you feel good about, give instructions as a statement, rather than a question.

Instead of… “Can you pick up your toys?”

Try… “I see toys on the floor and it’s time to leave.”

Or if you’d like to offer a choice, you can say something like, “I see blocks and dolls. Show me which one you want to put away first.”

5. Practice using following directions activities.

In order to build great listening skills, kids need a lot of practice…A LOT.

Which makes sense! I think we all can relate to needing a lot of practice before we can get good at anything. I could tell you a few stories about burnt dinner rolls for the past five years, but that’s a story for another day 🙂

7 core following directions activities for kids.

There are several good ‘ole fashioned standby games to play with kids to help them 1) Listen and hear what you are instructing and 2) Practice following the directions you shared.

1. Simon Says

One person is Simon or Elmo or Dora or Spiderman or Teacher or Whoever, and this person is the “leader.” Simon gives a set of instructions and everyone else follows. The person who doesn’t follow the instructions is “out.” And the person who follows the instructions throughout the game, wins Simon Says.

2. Red Light, Green Light.

One person is the leader who calls out “Red Light” or “Green Light.” When the leader calls out “Red Light,” everyone stops. When the leader calls out “Green Light,” everyone goes. Anyone who doesn’t stop or freeze during “Red Light” is out.

3. Follow the Leader.

Take a walk around your house or outside and whatever you (or the leader) does, everyone else must follow. This is a great game to allow your child to be the leader and have you follow your child. It’s a perfect opportunity to model following directions for your child!

LOVE these awesome listening activities for kids! Great way to build listening skills! Positive parenting tips.

4. Map Game

Try this map game and help your kids work their way through the grid following the directions given. Practice counting and using the words left, right, forward, and backward.

5. Two-step direction games.

Do one of these 2-step direction games with your kids. This is perfect for preschoolers and above! Have your kids follow some of the 2-step directions throughout the day (e.g. Shake your head “yes” and then quack like a duck.) Brilliant!

6. Lego® Game

If you have kids who are old enough to play a board game, try this Lego Game to help your kids practice reading directions and following them.

7. Visual direction activities.

With kids, visual directions are so important! You can make life simpler and fun using visual directions for your kids, such as a printable daily schedule for kids.

printable toddler schedule

Using routines is a great way to support cooperation and help your kids learn to follow directions.

They are also energy saving, AND a great way to avoid yelling “Green shoes!” ten times every morning or “Eat your dinner!” six times every evening.

Grab your FREE Following Directions Checklist Here!

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  1. I love these tips! I think we take for granted that kids will just know how to listen. Just knowing you have to actually teach them and practice is really important. I also really like the visual cards! Great resource! Some kids are definitely visual learners!

  2. This is an eye-opener for me. Getting my kid follow some instructions is a bit hard these days. I will definitely follow your guide.

  3. I have a 5 year old that is stubborn and use his words really well ( he gets speech at school) I took him for th first time to a soccer practice , thinking it would be fun for him to follow directions and play, but boy was I wrong, he laid in the floor, wandered around, just not a very good first time. He said he was tired, we got home took a shower and immdiatet fell asleep. While having this momeny in the field, h was just not having it, he said he was sweaty and did not like soccer anymore. Me and my husband ended up having a discussion about who should lay the iron fists. I dont know howelse to make this work. I need guidance.

  4. I just wanted to drop a comment and let you know how amazing your blog is. These tips are straightforward and super helpful! My son is 2 and 1/2 and I really needed to read these tips! Thank you so much 🙂

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