Kansas City,
08:47 AM

Parenting: Getting Toddlers to Follow Directions

Amy Terreros, Advanced Practice RN II, SCAN Clinic (Child Abuse and Neglect)

When your child is a toddler they start to explore their independence and test boundaries. You’ll find they don’t always listen and they want to do things on their own timeline. But teaching your child how to follow directions is an important lesson.

Giving your toddler directions is more than just telling them what to do. Good directions help them learn right from wrong and what you expect from them.

How to Give Toddlers Good Directions

You want to give your child clear, simple commands.

  • Be short and to the point.

  • Get his attention first by getting down to his level and making eye contact.

  • Don’t ask a question when you really don’t mean for him to have a choice.

  • Be polite and firm when there is not a choice: for instance, “Please pick up the block.”

  • Be sure to wait five to 10 seconds after each instruction to let your child have time to respond.

Getting Your Child to Understand and Follow Directions:

  1. Get your child’s full attention. Get your child’s full attention by calling them by name and making eye contact when speaking to them.

  2. Give a direction to your child. Tell your child exactly what you want them to do by being specific and making a statement instead of a question. For example, avoid giving directions like “Can you go clean up now?” Try to re-frame them as “Michael, I need you to please go clean your room.” This second sentence is more specific (“your room” vs. “up”) and is an example of the difference between asking and telling.

  3. Make sure they’ve listened and followed through. Check back after a short amount of time to see if your child listened to your directions.

  4. Add a consequence. Remember, consequences can be both positive and negative! If your child listened to you, make sure to offer praise. If your child didn’t follow through, enforce your directions with a negative consequence such as a loss of privileges.

Getting your child to listen doesn’t need to be a struggle. With consistency and practice, your child will be following directions in no time.


Learn more about the Child Abuse and Neglect program at Children’s Mercy.