Do you constantly ask your child things like “Are you listening to me?” or “Why haven’t you done what I’ve asked?” If so, you may wonder why he has trouble following directions. While there could be a number of reasons, learning and attention issues are strong possibilities.
If your child’s lack of follow-through is due to learning and attention issues, it’s important to know he isn’t ignoring you on purpose. Learn more about what causes trouble following directions.
What Trouble Following Directions May Look Like
Trouble following directions doesn’t look the same for every child. Some kids struggle to keep track of multi-step directions. They may brush their teeth and put on their clothes but not be able to remember the rest of the morning routine you’ve explained.
Others have a hard time focusing on directions. They may get distracted by the smell of breakfast cooking or the TV in the background and not hear your directions at all.
Kids can have problems with written directions or with verbal instructions. You and your child’s teacher may notice your child loses the point of what is said or skips directions when he reads. Your child may also:
- Take a long time to respond
- Misread directions
- Miss key information
- Have trouble recognizing what’s important information and what’s not
- Have difficulty holding on to important information
- Mix up what you say
- Get lost when reading
- Seem to hear, but not listen
- Find it hard to remember details
- Have difficulty responding to direct questions
- Mix up the order in which things need to be done
If a few of these signs are present and your child hasn’t been diagnosed with a specific condition, it’s a good idea to talk to your child’s teacher and doctor. You can work together to get a better idea of what’s causing the trouble. Two of the most common causes are ADHD and language disorders.
The Role of Attention Issues in Following Directions
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is the most common brain-based condition in childhood. The main symptoms of ADHD include difficulty with focus and attention, impulsive behavior and overactivity. These symptoms can make it hard for kids to slow down or focus well enough to follow directions.
Executive functioning issues can also make it hard for kids to focus and hold information in mind long enough to use it. Executive functions are the mental skills that help kids pay attention, remember things, get started on tasks, plan and prioritize. Many kids with ADHD and learning issues have trouble with executive functioning.
Kids who have trouble keeping track of several directions may have issues with the executive function called working memory. Working memory is sort of like the brain’s sticky note. It keeps information handy long enough for kids to use it. Weaknesses in working memory can make it hard for kids to remember directions with multiple steps.
The Role of Language Processing in Following Directions
You may notice that your child has more trouble following directions when they are spoken rather than written down. The issue could be caused by auditory processing disorder or other language disorders. Kids with these issues can hear just fine. But their brains have trouble making sense of the information they hear.
Language-based learning issues, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia, can cause trouble following directions, too. Kids with these issues have difficulty with reading and reading comprehension. That means they may find it hard not only to read the words, but also to make sense of what the words mean. That can make it hard to follow written directions.
Figuring Out Why Your Child Has Trouble
Sorting out the reasons behind your child’s trouble with following directions may not be quick or easy. But knowing what’s going on with your child will help you understand more about how to help.
You can start by observing your child and taking notes to share with your child’s doctor or teacher. You can also explore Parenting Coach for expert advice on behavior issues. And for an idea of what your child is experiencing, check out Through Your Child’s Eyes.
Your child’s issues with following directions may be a sign of a learning or attention issue. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to work together to find strengths he can build on. Take it one step at a time. There are many different strategies to try over time.