Teach Your Baby to Follow Directions

Have baby follow simple directions!

Babies missions in life are to test boundaries and create challenges for their caregivers, at least that’s what it feels like. There is no doubt their job is to discover and explore their environments, which is how they learn and is often unsafe. They know no better. For this reason, it’s very important for babies to follow directions. In order to follow directions they must be taught how to. This is our job as caregivers. Teaching this skill early on lays the foundation for the many directions they will be asked to follow throughout life.

Babies typically begin to follow simple verbal directions paired with gestures around eight to ten months of age. This is a great time to start working with them on following very basic directions such as “give it to mommy/daddy.” This is the direction I suggest parents begin with. It’s easy for baby to develop the understanding of what you want and you can use lots of gestures to make it a visible direction. Plus, babies just like to give things so you want to maximize on this natural activity by adding verbal directions. When giving a baby/young toddler directions, you want to speak clearly using appropriate grammar but simplified. For example, with my son at 9-12 months old I would say “give mommy ball” and “milk on tray.” Now at 13 months old I say “give the ball to mommy” and “put your milk on the tray.” Next, I will add adjectives such as “go get your blue ball” and two-part directions such as “go to your room and get your shoes.” You want to build on your language complexity as your baby’s matures. My son is not quite ready for two-part directions but is getting close. The ability to follow familiar two-step verbal directions typically develops between thirteen-eighteen months of age. Here’s a quick video of me scaffolding down from working on a two-step to a one-step direction.

Of course, babies are not always going to follow directions. I have a nice demonstration of this in the second video below. The reality is that babies will respond to your requests about 50% of the time on a good day, but it’s still an important skill to focus on. I recommend setting them up for mini practice sessions throughout the day during relaxed play times, when they are in a good mood. Be sure to provide lots of praise when the direction is followed. It’s important to make babies feel proud for following directions. This is key to carry over. Babies like to do things that get reactions, take advantage of this! When you do give a direction, make sure to follow through on it. If you say “give mommy the ball” make it happen. This is why starting early is clutch, because there is only so much a baby can do to rebuttal. Start simple so baby meets success. The first video is of me setting the stage for direction practice with my son. I placed his shoes among other toys and here’s what I got, good stuff!

The video below is hilarious. My baby told me “no” for the first time today and he meant it. I let him slide with this one :). I was excited to get it on video!

The following are verbal directions I currently focus on with my thirteen month old son:

  • Come here/Let’s go
  • Let’s go inside/outside
  • Sit down
  • Give it to ____
  • Eat your ____
  • Go get your ____
  • Give ____ hug/kiss
  • Clean up, put your things away
  • Put the ____ in/ Take the ____ out
  • Time to go night-night (we just started this and it’s really cool, when I say it we walk to his nursery together and talk about going night-night along the way)

We must remember that babies have to understand what we are asking of them in order to do it. This requires hearing you, processing what you said, understanding what you said (they have to be familiar with the vocabulary involved) and then acting on what you said. That’s a lot for a little mind to do and it takes time. You want to begin by giving babies lots of cues and gestures, gradually fading them away. It’s very important to allow babies processing time to interpret the message you’re giving them. I like to call it “wait time” and I recommend waiting ten seconds after you give a direction. It’s hard to do but important. We also have to remember that we must teach the direction to expect it. I like to think of it in these terms: I do, WE do, YOU do. Keep in mind that babies are easily distracted and need frequent reminders. The video below is a good example of processing time. Notice the time between me saying “get your bike” and when he does.

Having babies engage in and follow directions develops many cognitive skills including receptive language (understanding), listening, memory, attention/focus, problem solving, vocabulary development and critical thinking. I challenge you to boss a baby today!

Peace & Love,


Respect, kindness and love begin with babies…we must show them the way!

5 thoughts on “Teach Your Baby to Follow Directions

  1. Pingback: 16 Months Old | Speechbaby

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