How to use Instructions to Develop Self-control in a Toddler.


Children who have learned to follow instructions typically exhibit more self-control than other children, because learning to follow instructions involves practising to act with intent, which is the exact opposite of acting impulsively.

That brings us to the question: “How do I teach my toddler to follow instructions?” The answer is: “By physically showing him how!”


  • Take the Lead. 

“What a child can do today with assistance, she will be able to do by herself tomorrow.” ~ Lev.S. Vygotsky

Hand something to a child older than 14 months and give him a simple instruction like: “Give this to Daddy!” Then patiently give him all the time he needs to first process what you want him to do and then get his muscles to move. Repeat the instruction tirelessly in a loving tone of voice. If needed, go as far as physically closing his hands around the object, and steering him all the way to Daddy before saying: “Look Daddy! I brought you a …”.

By doing this, you are respectfully treating your child as someone who is able to learn and worthy of your time and attention. And, you’re training him to focus and be more self-controlled at the same time.

What’s more, after a few days of practice, neural pathways will take shape in his brain that will enable him to follow simple instructions like these on his own.


  • Accept that your Child Needs Time to Process your Instruction.

Consider the worst scenario: You hand your child an object and ask him to walk to somebody and hand it to the person. You wait a few seconds and see that he is looking at you with a blank expression. You then assume that you’re expecting too much or else he would have complied, and then take the object yourself.

This last scenario may sound like common sense to an adult who is testing the waters with a child, but from the child’s perspective, he gets the message that he is not important and nothing much can be expected of him. What’s more, he is missing out on a learning opportunity.


Here are a few examples of instructions that a typical child should be able to learn during the 12-14 month period, even though they may each require a few days of practice:

– Ask your child to hand you an object.

– Ask him to pass an object to a third person.

– Ask him to pack an object into or take it out of a container.

– Ask your child to point out a specific object in a book.

– Ask your child to open a door in the kitchen, get a plastic bowl (which you have deliberately placed there for his convenience) and take it to a special spot where you routinely give him his snack.

Start with single instructions and then move onto giving two-part instructions, like: “Go get the ball and give it to Daddy”.


Note: Bear in mind that in the Practica Programme our efforts are not only aimed at building better brains. Every positive interaction between parent and child also strengthens the child’s sense of self to help nurture him into a happier, more emotionally resilient human being.


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