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Learning to follow directions

Learning to follow directions

I have a 3.5-year-old who won’t listen to anything. We both just end up getting upset. I'm concerned that she will face problems in preschool if she won’t start following directions.

This is normal at this age and I think in most families across Australia. Let’s try and set you up for success for gaining and sustaining attention so your requests are effective and your daughter learns to follow directions.

Effective Requests


It is important to give effective requests so that children are clear about what they have to do. If a request is given well it will increase the likelihood of the child following it. Giving an effective request also avoids the adult feeling frustrated by the child not complying with a vague request.


Effective requests are those that use simple language and make it clear to the child what they need to do. When appropriate, gestures and gentle physical guidance can be used to help the child understand exactly what is required. Clear instructions state the instruction in a positive way, so the child knows what to do rather than not what to do.


  • Get close (arm’s length as a guide)
  • Say the child’s name to make sure they have their attention
  • Are brief and specific about what action they want the child to do
  • Are firm and unemotional so the child focuses on the content of what they are saying rather than on the tone
  • Wait for the child’s response (approx. 5 seconds)
  • Watch and stay with the child until they follow the instruction
  • Uses gestures to reinforce what they want the child to do
  • If appropriate uses gentle physical guidance to help direct the child
  • Give praise when they do comply
  • Avoid giving a choice, when the child does not have a choice

Jane De Vita

Jane De Vita

Early Learning Consultant, Goodstart Early Learning

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