Most toddlers can follow simple, two-step directions by age 2.

Following Directions for Toddlers

by Dana Tuffelmire

Patience is key when raising a toddler. You smile and breathe deeply as your toddler kicks and screams on the floor, you calmly repeat 10 times in a day, "We don't pull the dog's tail," and you lovingly embrace your toddler when he comes to you with tears in his eyes because he dropped his truck down the toilet. Again. Yes, toddlers are a raucous bunch and it's up to parents to train them into sensible little people. As toddlers' language skills improve, they are more and more capable of understanding and following simple directions. Although it might be easier, and certainly quicker, to do everything for your tot, you're teaching him valuable life skills by asking him to do it for himself.

Start Simple

You probably started giving commands like, "Wave bye-bye to Grandma!" even before she turned 1. When she obeyed, you and Grandma most likely erupted into grins and words of praise. With that kind of reaction, who wouldn't want to follow directions? By the time children are 18 months they have an increased mental capacity to follow more abstract directions, like, "Go get your doll from the kitchen." Keep directions simple so you don't overwhelm your child with unattainable tasks.

Be Clear

When you give directions to a toddler, be as concise as possible. If you're too vague about a request, your child might feel overwhelmed and simply ignore it. If it's something the child has never done before, you'll need to show him exactly how to do it by modeling for him. Get down to his level, make eye contact and say, "Please put your trucks into this basket." Sing a simple clean-up song as you help him complete the task. Visual aides can help older toddlers complete a series of tasks. You might create a chart with pictures of a child getting dressed, brushing his teeth and then putting on his shoes to help with the morning routine.

Recognize and Praise

Always recognize when the task has been completed and acknowledge it with praise, even when it wasn't done exactly as you would have done it. When your 3 year old beams up at you in a backwards shirt and shoes on the wrong feet, praise her with kind words and tactfully help her get it right. Her feelings of pride and independence should be nurtured, not diminished. Say, "Great job, honey, I'm so proud of you! Would you like Mom to help you turn your shirt around?"

Give Choices

Be careful with how you word your requests to avoid a mutiny where your toddler simply refuses to do what you are asking. When it's time to leave, avoid saying, "Are you ready to go home?" Chances are, he is not! Instead, say, "It's time to go. Would you like to put your shoes on or find your jacket first?" When you want your toddler to do something that is non-negotiable, offer two choices so he feels somewhat in control of the situation. If you need him to get ready for dinner, say, "Would you like to wash your hands first or put those crayons away?"

About the Author

Dana Tuffelmire has been writing for DMS for three years. She taught elementary school for seven years and earned a master’s of education degree with a specialization in literacy. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two sons. Her dream is to one day write a children's book.

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