Help! My Child Won’t Follow Directions 

“Matthew, go bring your shoes, please”… *silence*… “Matthew, did you hear me?”… No matter how many times you repeat the prompt, Matthew meets you with a blank stare. Does this situation sound familiar to you? You’re not alone! Following directions is an essential skill, yet many children have difficulties following simple directions, especially children with developmental challenges.

It is important for a child to follow directions because it is how learning takes place. Following directions directly impacts a child’s academic success, social development, as well as performance of daily routines. If a child displays difficulties with following directions, it may not only affect a child’s functioning at home and school, but also affect his/her self-esteem and social life.

Why does this happen? 

A child may struggle to follow directions due to a hearing impairment, language processing disorder, low attention span, sequencing difficulties, and/or memory deficit.

Milestones for Following Directions 

1;0-2;0 Years Following 1-step commands “Get your shoes”
2;0-3;0 Years Following 2-step related commands “Get your shoes and bring to me”
3;0-4;0 Years Following 2-step related and unrelated commands “Get your shoes and your socks, and put them on”

Signs to Look For 

  • Gives a blank look when prompted with directions
  • Requires repetition of directions
  • Follows directions indirectly
  • Displays distraction when given directions and/or attempting to follow directions
  • Looks to others to follow directions
  • Falls behind age-appropriate milestones (see above)
  • Carries out only one step of multi-step directions

How to Help 

If your child seems to fall behind the milestones for following directions, it is always recommended to receive a full speech-language evaluation. A speech-language pathologist will be able to determine what specific challenges and needs your child may have, and how to best help him/her. If you live in Florida, please reach out to Exceptional Speech Therapy to schedule a thorough evaluation.

Happy Learning!

Andrea Scola, M.S., CF-SLP
Exceptional Speech Therapy Blog Writer


How to give kids effective instructions. (2020, May 07). Retrieved April 07, 2021, from

Miller, S. (n.d.). Ages & Stages: Learning to follow directions. Retrieved April 07, 2021, from

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