Here are 3 common reasons children struggle to listen and follow instructions:
1. You are using too many words.
We all had that teacher when we were kids who just droned on and on – using way too many words.
It’s funny how when it comes to our own kids, we can be that exact drone-er!
We want to make sure they really understand what we are saying. We feel a need to somehow press the information into their brains – so we repeat it – from four different angles, add a story from our childhood, and then a short analogy – just to bring it home.
The problem is we lost them about 3 sentences in.
Most children, and especially those with trauma histories and challenges focusing, need short, direct, succinct language. They may struggle to follow multiple step instructions and long-winded explanations. And for those with developmental trauma, their ability to process language can take a few extra seconds. They are often still trying to process what you said in the first two sentences and you are already on sentence 7.
Mom/Dad, keep it brief and get to the point.
A good rule of thumb is to say what needs to be said in 15 words or less when needing to directly address a challenge or when tempers are beginning to flare.
Let me give you an example: “I asked you to clean up your room. It needs to be complete by 5:00 pm.”
When we remain standing at the door, furthering our lecture about responsibility, the value of a clean room, how many times she’s already been reminded, etc., we are wasting energy and likely going to end up in a power struggle. We are surely NOT going to have a clean room.
We need to conserve our energy and use it efficiently. Reduce your words and your child will actually have a better chance of following your instructions.
2. You are teaching in the red.
When our child is frustrated, having big emotions, falling apart, or having a meltdown – that’s often when us moms and dads decide it’s time for a life lesson.
It’s in this “red zone” where the most challenging behaviors often manifest.
We step in to try to get our kids to stop – instructing them and asking questions – and perhaps even attempting to discipline them – only to find ourselves escalating as things often get worse.
Now, everyone ends up “in the red” and zero learning is going on.
As humans, we need to be calm enough to access the part of our brain where good thinking can occur – and this is not possible when we are all red!
Take a moment to step away. Guide your child towards some choices to help him calm down and save your words until then. Once you are both back in the green, you can teach.
Your energy will be better spent trying to help your child calm down, then trying to teach in the red zone!
3. You are talking instead of doing.
Even if your child is calm and you are doing your best to provide instructions succinctly, many parents miss opportunities to help their child learn by doing.
Think about that awesome coach or music teacher you had – you didn’t just talk about what you could do better next time – you practiced it.
This gave you the muscle memory experience of what “correct” looked and/or sounded like.
It’s fine to talk things through sometimes (and ok to use more than 15 words when everyone is green, but still be mindful to be efficient), but it’s even better to look for opportunities to DO what you are talking about.
As appropriate (and in an age-appropriate manner) re-do the situation and give your child the opportunity to practice.
The best way we can help our child learn new behaviors is by doing them!
Walking with you,