“Ann, get your sweater and come along now,” a mother called across the playground. No response. So the statement was repeated in a louder voice, and this time her daughter responded.
“Why do I always have to say things twice?” the mother wondered out loud to a friend.
“Don’t feel bad. I have to say things seven times before my children listen,” the other mother laughed.
We often think of a toddler who follows directions as “obedient,” a student who follows directions as having “good work habits,” and a business person as “dependable.” Intelligence and cooperation are often closely associated with those who can follow directions. Individually and in a group, we all need to have this attribute.
Sometimes children learn to follow directions after receiving school papers with those glaring red marks and comments. Some children never learn and continue through life with “red markings” on their work.
A second-grade teacher recently said, “One of my biggest problems is that students don’t follow the directions even when they’ve read them. And my colleagues teaching the upper grades say the same thing.”
Here are four reasons why children don’t follow directions:
Preoccupation. Have you ever had someone ask you a question when you’re in the middle of a deep thought or gripping book? You probably didn’t hear it. Yet many times we think our children can’t follow directions when they really didn’t hear us. Their “deep thoughts” might be make-believe, and the “gripping book” a game or friend, but they’re just as intense.
A warning that playtime will end or the table must be set in 10 minutes gives children a chance to wind down their activity. Then they may be ready to give you their full attention. Saying “Look at me,” ‘Be still,” and “Listen carefully, please” can help focus attention on the words to follow.
Over-verbalization. If parents are broadcasting directions all day, children soon tune them out. Sift through the daily needs and ask only what must be done. Quality and quantity come into play here. Is the quality of our voice cheerful and encouraging, or cross and demanding? And are we asking more than a child is capable of remembering, understanding, or doing? When one thing is accomplished, then more can gradually be added.
Failure to analyze. Sometimes every question on a school test may be answered correctly, but the paper is marked wrong because, “You didn’t follow directions.” We shouldn’t underline when we’re directed to circle the answer. Sometimes it’s a process of decoding directions that are poorly written, and finding the key words will help. Have children look at a recipe and find out if they should stir, chop, or blend. The key words in any directions zero in on how to proceed.
Laziness. Today’s Internet and multimedia age dazzles and distracts many children. They’re accustomed to being entertained. If they’re passive spectators, it becomes harder to stir them to be active participants. Activities that include following instructions can help. Some of these include board games, cooking, and crafts.
And if you are successful in building a foundation in following directions, you might not have to say things twice anymore!