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Following directions

At a Glance: 4 Possible Reasons Your Child Doesn’t Follow Directions

By Amanda Morin

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It can be mystifying when your child repeatedly doesn’t do what she’s been told or doesn’t seem to get what you’re asking her to do. But trouble following directions can be a sign of certain learning and attention issues. Learn more.

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At a Glance: 4 Possible Reasons Your Child Doesn’t Follow Directions

Some learning and attention issues make it hard for kids to do what they’ve been asked to do. Here are some possible reasons for your child’s trouble understanding instructions and following through on tasks.

Focus Issues
You wonder: Was she paying attention?
The problem: Your child seems to hear you, but she does her chores or homework all wrong.
Possible reason: Kids with ADHD and some learning issues have trouble focusing their attention. Your child may start listening but get distracted by her own thoughts or something she sees or hears along the way.

Processing Issues
You wonder: Why doesn’t she understand this?
The problem: Your child hears you or has the directions in front of her, but she doesn’t get what she’s supposed to do.
The reason: Kids with language-based learning issues can have a hard time understanding multi-step instructions. They hear what you say, but their brains have difficulty processing what the words mean.

Memory Issues
You wonder: Why doesn’t she remember what she’s supposed to do?
The problem: Your child hears and understands directions, but she can’t get past the first step.
The reason: Some kids with learning and attention issues have weak working memory skills. Working memory is the “sticky note” of the brain. Weak working memory skills make it hard to keep track of what comes next.

Language Issues
You wonder: Why is she taking me so literally?
The problem: Your child hears your directions and is following the words but isn’t taking anything else into account.
The reason: Some kids have a very hard time picking up on the body language or tone of voice. They may not understand that words can have more than one meaning or know what a “figure of speech” is.
Graphic of At a glance: 4 possible reasons your child doesn't follow directions
Graphic of At a glance: 4 possible reasons your child doesn't follow directions

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About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin

A parent advocate and former teacher, Amanda Morin is the proud mom of kids with learning and attention issues and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

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Reviewed by Laura Tagliareni, Ph.D. Apr 20, 2014 Apr 20, 2014

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