How to Give Directions

by: Sandra F. Rief, M.A.
Use this ADD/ADHD resource to help your LD child understand and follow directions.
Table of contents

How to Give Directions

These tips for parents will help your child understand and follow through on your instructions.

Get your child's attention directly before giving directions. This means face-to-face and direct eye-contact (not just calling out what you expect your child to do).

You may need to walk over to touch or physically cue your child prior to giving directions.

Don't attempt to give directions or instructions if you are competing with the distraction of TV, music, video games, etc. First turn those off to gain your child's attention and focus.

Show your child what you want him to do. Model and walk through the steps. Check that he understands.

Depending on the developmental skill of your child, one direction at a time is often all your son or daughter is capable of remembering and following through on. Don't give a series of directions.

Provide multisensory instructions. Use a visual chart of tasks or chores your child is to do.

A helpful technique for young children is to draw or cut out pictures on a chart hanging in the room that shows the sequence of morning or evening activities:
1. Clothing -- To get dressed
2. Cereal bowl -- To show eating breakfast
3. Hairbrush and toothbrush -- Grooming
As your child completes the task, she moves a clothespin down the chart next to that corresponding picture.

For an older child, write down directions in addition to explaining them.

Always check whether your child understands directions. Have him repeat or rephrase what you asked him to do.

Use color to get your child's attention with anything you put in writing (key words, pictures, etc.).

Try putting down on paper the task you want done with words or pictures, and giving that visual direction to your child.

Keep directions clear, brief, and to the point.

Give directions as statements, not questions. Say, "Lights off in 15 minutes." Don't say, "Are you ready to turn off the lights?"

Be sure to give frequent praise and postitive feedback when your child follows directions and/or is making a good attempt to do so.

Provide the follow-up when you give directions (i.e., inspect, check your child's work, and praise a job well done).

Reward your child for following directions as appropriate. For example, "You did a great job straightening up your room as I asked. You get to . . . (choose a game, have a snack)."

Try not to lose your temper when your child fails to follow directions. Remember that it is characteristic of ADHD to have difficulty:
1. Disengaging from activities, especially fun ones that she has not finished
2. Responding and following through without structuring, adult prompting, and cueing
3. With recall/memory

Examine what you asked your child to do and see if you provided enough structure and assistance to enable him to follow through with the directions given. It's easy to forget that even though they are at an age where they should remember and be able to do a task independently, developmentally they are not able to do so, and need some of the supports that a younger child would normally require.

Break down tasks into smaller steps that you want to get done. Give one step at a time.

Avoid vague directions that your child can interpret differently than you (e.g., "Clean up your room"). Be specific in defining what you expect done (clothes hung in closet or folded/placed in drawers, bed made, toys put in storage bins).

Provide needed support by working alongside your child on a task together. Try turning unpleasant chores/tasks into more pleasant or motivating experiences by making a game of it when possible. For example: Beat the Clock challenges such as, "Let's see if you can finish picking up your toys and get in your pajamas while the commercials are on, or . . . before the alarm goes off. . . or by the end of the song. "

Once you have provided the necessary support and guidance, it is important that your child work independently to the best of her ability. You don't want to establish co-dependent behaviors that can be disabling to both of you.

Excerpted from The ADD/ADHD Checklist by Sandra Rief, M.A.