Following instructions

BY: Josephine Ohenewa Bampoe
Following instructions
Following instructions

Following instructions is part of our everyday life. Children, in particular are expected to follow instructions as they grow. It involves the ability of the child to act on request by others.

Children are given instructions in different contexts and are expected to be able to follow them.

At home, children may be asked to do things, such as, “Put the rubbish in the bin” or “Give the remote control to daddy”.

At school, the teacher may give instructions, such as, “Colour the drawings with your crayon” or “Keep quiet everyone”.

Children also give instructions to their peers during playtime, such as, “help me bathe my doll”.

Not acting on requests given by adults can be interpreted as the child refusing to follow instructions.

In our Ghanaian context it is quite disrespectful for a child to do so. This is however not always the case.

Being able to follow instructions appropriately requires the child to attend to what is being said to them, understand it and remember it until the purpose of the instruction is met. For many reasons, some children may have difficulties doing any or all of these, resulting in not following the instructions.

The ability for children to follow instructions is important in order for them to function effectively in society (home, school, religious places etc.).

Having difficulties following instructions may impact on a child’s behaviour and ability to complete their academic work.

Building blocks

For a child to be able to follow instructions, there are certain things that need to be in place. These include:

• Hearing – the child must be able to hear

• Attention & Concentration – attending and focusing on what is being said without getting distracted

• Understanding language

• Ability to temporarily retain information in languages, for example, concepts like big/small, colour (red, yellow, green etc.), location (in, on, under etc.)

Signs of difficulty

• Appears distracted

• Misinterpreting information

• Requires that instructions are short and simple. Difficulty following longer instructions and commands

• Looks at others blankly when being given instructions

• Not following instructions or follows part of an instruction

• Relies on others to figure out what they are required to do.

Practical strategies

• Get the child’s attention before giving instructions (usually by calling them by name)

• Teach them social games, such as, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, stamp your feet”, “Ring a ring a roses, a pocket full of posies, atishoo atishoowe all fall down. These games have commands in them that children learn from.

• Give the child one instruction at a time for example “Give me the book (wait for the child to finish this before giving the next instruction)…Sit down”.

• Let the child repeat the instruction to ensure they understand it. For example, Get me the remote. What do I want you to get me?

• Model for them the instruction they had difficulty following. So for example, if you asked them to put the paper in the bin, get their attention whilst you put the paper in the bin and say “paper in pin” or hold their hands to put the paper in whilst you say same.

• Break instructions into parts instead of chunking them all together. Use the concept of ‘First/Then’ to help them know the order in which they need to complete the instruction. For example, first draw a circle (and let the child draw the circle) and then colour it red (the child is then offered a crayon to colour the circle).

• Visuals aids/cues – use gestures, body language and facial expressions to help your child’s understanding of language.

To help your child with their language difficulties, they may need to see a speech and language therapist (an expert in communication skills).

Speech and language therapists are found in some major hospitals and private clinics in Ghana. The earlier your child gets help for their difficulties, the better it is for them to improve. Early intervention is key! Seek help now!

The writer is a Speech & Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor, University of Ghana. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.