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Positive instructions

BY: Josephine Ohenewa Bampoe
Image credit: shutterstock.com
Image credit: shutterstock.com

One of the things carers of children tend to do is to give them instructions. In Ghana, children are often expected to be seen, not heard.

As a child, you are expected to be seen doing what your parents ask you to do. But does it matter for carers to give these instructions?

Instructions can be negative or positive. When an adult gives an instruction about what a child should not do, they tend to focus on that alone, rather than what they should do. For example, “Don’t play with the ball.” What do you think the child will be thinking about? The ball!

How about saying it differently? How about focusing on what you want the child to rather play with? That’s what positive instruction is about.

Rather than telling children what not to do, it’s helpful they are told what to do. This helps the child focus on that and strive to do it. Examples of such instructions are:

• Instead of “Do not jump”, you can say, “Let’s do good walking.”


• Instead of “Do not use bad words”, you can say, “Let’s hear good words.”

• Instead of “Do not hurt your brother”, you can say, “Let me hear you use your words.”

• Instead of “Don’t chew like that’, say, “Eat with your mouth closed.”

• Instead of “Do not do your homework after 6 O’clock”, say, “Do your homework at 4 p.m.”

Sometimes you can say it in a different way, such as:

• “It’s dark here. Can you turn the lights on?”

• “You can’t run in the playground but you can walk.”

• “You can’t find the shoes in the kitchen, how about you search the bedroom?”Giving positive instructions help with managing some behaviours. They tell your child exactly what you want them to do and avoid confusion. Instructions are more effective when they are:

• Clear and specific

• Given one at a time

• Direct

• Have simple rationales/purpose

• Offer the child an opportunity to respond

• Given at a time you have your child’s full attention

Sometimes, parents make a request and assume they have given an instruction. Making a request means you are asking your child to do something (such as “Do you want to play with the car?”, “Do you want to play outside?”), while giving an instruction means you are telling your child to do something (such as “Please play outside”, “Please play with your car”).

The difference is that an instruction does not give the child an option to say no, whereas a request does. Knowing the difference helps with your expectations.

It is very important that you are patient with your child when it comes to following instructions. Are your instructions positive?

The writer is 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.