How to Teach Your Child How to Read and Follow Written Instructions


A big part of your child’s sense of self-confidence comes from the ability to know what to do in emer­gency situations, when solving problems, and when try­ing to get things done.

How do you teach your child what to do? First, you admit to yourself that you can’t teach your child every response to every possible situation or circumstance. Your responsibility is to teach your child how to get answers and how to discover what needs to be done.

One of the best ways I know to help a child feel confident in facing the unknown is to train the child to look for, use, and follow instruction manuals.

For some time, a little card was taped to our refriger­ator door. It read, “If at first you don’t succeed, try reading the instructions.”

The discouraging fact is that most of us don’t turn to the instruction manual at the outset of a project or when something goes wrong. We fumble around until the item is mostly put together (except for that one odd screw) or mostly repaired (except for the occasional spark).

The encouraging fact is that upwards of ninety per­cent of the nitty-gritty, everyday fix-it problems we face in life can be overcome by consulting the right instruc­tion booklet or owner’s manual.

Instruction manuals and how-to books are readily available to tell you how to build, repair, or improve nearly every area of your life—from furniture scratches to carburetors.

The two key questions your child needs to consider are: “What do you need to know?” And, “Where can you find an instruction booklet?”

The most effective way for your child to learn to consider these questions is to hear you ask them of yourself and watch you consult instruction booklets.

Invite your child to help you put things together, re­pair things, or solve a problem. Show how instruction booklets are laid out and how to relate diagrams and pictures to real objects. Point out the importance of doing step 1 before step 2. Ask, “What would you do next?” Or, “Read me the next step, will you?” Let the child have hands-on experience in putting together the new baby crib or the toy train set. Encourage the child to consult instructions before loading batteries into the new tape recorder.

Encourage your children to make things on their own that require consulting a set of instructions. For exam­ple:

  • making a cake requires a recipe (actually a set of instructions)
  • sewing a dress requires a pattern (including a set of instructions)
  • building a model airplane requires a step-by-step set of instructions

The child that grows up reading instructions and helping to put together, repair, or build things has two great advantages in life. First, he or she believes that most broken things can be fixed. That’s an excellent orientation to have, especially as it may relate later in life to health, marriage, or interpersonal conflicts. Sec­ond, the child believes there are logical, specific steps to most processes. The child will learn not to expect “abracadabra” miracles.

Self-confidence is enhanced when your child knows he or she is capable of repairing or improving a broken object or difficult situation. Learning to read and follow instructions provides your child with the ability to do just that.

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About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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