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Giving Instructions Workshop: Group Guide

Giving Instructions workshop is geared to assist parents to communicate directions and instructions to their children in a clear and supportive manner. It highlights how to state directions and instructions in a way that will reinforce positive interactions with children and reduce behaviour issues. It also addresses the use of visual aids with children such as gestures, photographs and printed symbols to assist in the understanding of instructions.

Before the sessions starts

Materials Required:

  • Real objects for examples during workshop – photograph, toy, word cards, picture symbols, and a first/then board.
  • Icebreaker – timer/watch, prepared envelopes with word cards and picture symbols.

Workshop Content

Introduction of speakers and content.

Hello everyone. Tonight we are going to be talking about how we can develop our ability to communicate with children through a number of easy to follow steps that will assist our children to understand what is being requested of them. When children are better able to understand what they are being asked to do you can lessen their frustration level and increase positive behaviours. When children are able to complete tasks and follow instructions on their own they begin to develop a healthy feeling of independence and self-worth. My job tonight will be to facilitate the discussion, to keep us on track and to record some of your thoughts. So let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves and maybe say what brought you out this evening. What would you like to get out of this session?


(Prep: timer/watch, envelopes, word cards, and picture symbols)
Depending on the number of participants divide the group into either 2 or 4 separate groups with about 4-6 people in each group. Tell the participants that you are going to give each group an envelope with the instructions to a simple routine that each person does every day. Give one group package A and the other group package B. You then tell the group that they have 45 seconds to figure out what the task is and to put the instructions in the correct order that they occur. Tell the participants to shout “finished” when they have completed the activity. Start your timer or watch for 45 seconds.

The purpose of this ice breaker to show how a simple every day routine of instructions for eating can be made into a complicated set of directions or the flip side–a simple set of directions. It will show how confusing some instructions can be and also how frustrating they can make you feel when you do not understand them immediately.

Ask the participants who had the more difficult icebreaker task to complete how they felt during the 45 seconds that they had to put the instructions in order. Record their thoughts on flip paper (for example, frustrated, under pressure, distracted, confused). Repeat the question with the participants who completed the easier icebreaker and also record their responses. Now discuss with the group some of the behaviours that children may display when they are not able to comply with a direction or instruction. List the behaviours that the participants label (for example, refusing to listen, throwing, tantrumming, hitting). The lists between what the adults felt with the difficult icebreaker task and what they observe with children will be similar. Tell the group that it is a normal behavioural response to become non-compliant or upset when you cannot follow a task and to think about how many instructions children receive on a day to day basis. When parents learn some new techniques they can greatly improve their children’s ability to understand us and follow instructions.


  • Introduction to Giving Instructions
  • How we communicate to our children
  • Breaking down instructions
  • Visual helpers / choice making
  • Positive reinforcement

View Slides 1-3

Large Group Discussion:

(Prep: flipchart and markers)
Ask the participants to talk about the strategies that they have developed to assist their children to understand their requests. Allow the group time to respond and give them suggestions if necessary. For example, you can say to the participants, “does anyone hold up a diaper to their child to let the child know it is time for a change”? These types of questions of daily routine tasks should prompt examples. You can also ask the participants of school age children if the child’s teacher is using any strategies that they are aware of in the classroom.

View Slide 4

Large Group Activity:

(Prep: flipchart, markers, and timer)
Ask the participants to join up in pairs. Have one person stand and the other remain seated. The person standing is to explain to the other person a task. You can select anything you want such as how to make coffee, how to wash dishes etc. Allow several minutes for this activity.

Review what was said in the slides of getting down to the child’s level so you can be face to face and also using the child’s name to help them understand who you are talking to. Discuss types of warning (“one more minute”, using a timer or bell, flicking the lights).

View Slides 5- 6

Large Group Discussion:

(Prep: flipchart and markers, toys, pictures)
Remind the participants again of the difficult icebreaker task and that it was so challenging because there were too many directions and steps in it. Talk about slide 5 and the importance of keeping our language to children simple and to the point. Discuss how we can make directions short and use examples such as in slide 5 and others. Ask the group to give examples of short instructions that they use with their children, how they have modified their own language to assist their children to understand. You can record these examples on the flip chart paper.

Talk about the participants’ responses from the above flipchart while providing a physical example of each one that you can. Ask which participants are using visual aids with their children and how they have helped.

View Slides 7-8

Large Group Discussion:

Discuss with the participants the impact of wording instructions in a positive manner to children and also how it reinforces behaviours that we want the children to engage in. Talk to the group about how it can be difficult to change our language to this style, however, with practice it can be done. Also, talk about the importance of allowing children time to process what we say to them. You can provide the participants with an example of the 10-second rule by making a request and then waiting 10 seconds before you repeat it. Not all directions we give to children include choices. If you do not want a yes/no response then change the wording of your instruction. Examples include, tell your child “it’s time for bed” instead of asking them “do you want to go to bed now?”, “hands to yourself” instead of “stop hitting”.

View Slides 9-10

Small Group Activity:

(Prep: flipchart and markers)
Divide the participants into the same groups they were in for the icebreaker. Give them flipchart paper and markers and ask them to write down reinforcements they use with their children. Give the group about 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, have the participants share their responses. Look for common responses between the groups (toys, food, favoured activities). Share your own ideas about reinforcements that may not be listed.

View Slide 11

Large Group Discussion:

(Prep: first/then board)
Discuss with the group the slide and the description of the use of a reinforcement versus a bribe to complete an instruction or direction. Show the example of the first/then board and talk about how it can be used with children for them to understand what is expected.


This concludes our workshop on Giving Instructions. Are there any questions about the material presented or any other questions? I would like to thank you for coming to the workshop this evening. Please take a moment to complete our workshop evaluation. Have a great night.

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