How to Stop Sounding Like a Broken Record

One day, last year, I decided to keep track of how many times I asked my kid to put shoes on before leaving the house. I put a little chart on the fridge and put a tally mark every time I asked. My record, sadly, was 8, though I’m sure if you’re reading this article you’ve maybe bested my record.

Put your shoes on. It’s time to go.

Please put your shoes on now.

We’re going to be late if you don’t put your shoes on now!

Put. On. Shoes! PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND KIND IN THE UNIVERSE!  

Have you ever had this experience yourself? You talk and then your child starts doing something else entirely, like playing with their toys? Think about it: there are dozens of reasons why your child might not be following directions, and factors such as age, stage of development, what’s going on in the room, how much sleep they had, etc.

The reality is, many children need a little help with focusing, paying attention, and learning how to follow instructions. As I say often, nobody hands a child a book and expects them to teach themselves to read. And as parents, we often do just that when it comes to helping kids learn to listen.

In the video below, we share two approaches to helping kids learn to follow directions. The first is to help you get your child’s attention. Your child might simply not be hearing the directions you’re giving (after all, they might be building the most epic pillow fort ever). The second tactic is to simplify the instructions. Directions as simple as “Let’s get ready to go to the store.” actually consists of multiple steps. So, the request might not actually make sense to your child. What can help is to think of how a request could be broken down into smaller steps.

Taking the example of “Let’s get ready to go”, there are five steps to get to the endpoint. Your child might have to stop playing with their toys, find the shoes, put on the shoes, find the jacket, and put on the jacket. Your child may not be aware of all the steps or might find it overwhelming to process all at once. So, a parent could consider breaking the instructions down into separate steps. Ask your child to:

  1. Stop playing with their toys.
  2. Find their shoes
  3. Put them on
  4. Find their jacket
  5. Put the jacket on.

And voila, you’re ready to go.

There isn’t one simple trick to getting a toddler or preschooler to follow directions. Each parent might have a few hacks that help them manage their busy lives and keep their kids happy and healthy. Parenting is a process though and sadly, there isn’t a single quick fix that will solve every problem.

By combining these two techniques, getting your child’s attention and breaking down requests, you can help your child understand what’s expected of them. Just a few of our strategies to give you a fighting chance at getting those shoes on and getting out the door.


About the Author

Founded in 1978, Committee for Children (CFC) is a global nonprofit that creates research-based, social-emotional learning materials dedicated to fostering the safety and well-being of children through social-emotional learning and development. The organization’s social-emotional learning materials have taught millions of children skills that help them manage their emotions, solve problems, and improve their academics. Today, this curriculum reaches schools in more than 70 countries, including 40 percent of all U.S. elementary schools. Committee for Children also recently developed the innovative Parent Parachute mobile app to help parents tackle everyday parenting struggles.

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