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3 year old can't follow simple instructions

(11 Posts)
LibbyLou123 Tue 11-Oct-11 11:09:48

Just wondered what anybody else thought of this.

My 3 year old knows her shapes, colours, recognises numbers up to 10 and is starting to recognise a few letters. She's a very bright little girl.

But she can't follow the most simple instructions. Such as "can you put the spoon in the sink for me please?" She stands there completely clueless as to what I mean. I point to where it needs to go, she attempts to put it in the cupboard next to the sink. I say things like "by the taps" "where you wash your hands" or "in the bowl" (I can word it in several different ways, to try and explain what I mean) but she literally has no idea.

After a while, her 2 year old cousin came and took the spoon off her this morning and went and put it in the sink himself. (I think he'd got fed up just watching her as he clearly knew what I was saying)

She can follow instructions of things that I regularly ask her to do, such as "tidy the toys up", "get your coat on", but anything that I've never asked her to do before, she really has no idea about. I'd have though a 3 year old, even if they had never been asked to put the spoon in the sink before, would understand what that means surely? Especially as I then went on to try and explain it in lots of different ways and was pointing to where I wanted her to put it. It's not just this, it's lots of simple instructions that she doesn't understand.

Should I be getting worried?

nannyintheknow Tue 11-Oct-11 12:29:35

Hi there libbylou123,
I really dont think this is something you need to be concerend with.
At the age of 3 a child's capability to learn increases a huge amount. They are absorbing more information around them than at any other stage in their live's and at an increadble rate, that's alot of information to process for a little one.
You said your daughter can follow other instructions really well, such as tidying up and putting on her coat. These are things that you have shown her how to do. Perhaps this is what you need to do in other instances. Instead of just pointing and explaing, do it with her explaining as you go. This makes it easier for children to understand and process information as they have actions to associate with the words.
Hope that helps.
Nannyintheknow x

CowWatcher Tue 11-Oct-11 12:33:48

Hi there. Can she definately hear you? She may be used to doing certain things in certain situations, like putting her coat on etc. but cannot follow 'new' instructions because she doesn't hear properly. I'm no expert, just a thought as I had shocking problems with blocked ears etc when I was little & there were times when I could hear & other times when I couldn't.

ButterflySally Tue 11-Oct-11 13:26:00

Hi LibbyLou, what is her talking like in general? Does she use lots of words and does she have a wide vocabulary? Is she speaking in simple, short sentences?

Firsttimer7259 Tue 11-Oct-11 13:31:56

You could try playing a game where you have lots of objects and place them in particular ways in relation to each other to test what aspects of langugae/hearing may be causing the difficulty. So: do obvious ones like putting cup on the saucer, put the hat on the dolly. These she may guess predictively rather than because she understands the exact words. then try non-obvious ones like put the sock in the cup, put the dolly on the plate. If she can follow that she understands each word, otherwise you might hvae a child who is doing some clever inferencing but either cant hear everything you say or doesnt understand certain words. Playing with her like this might even help you work out it its her hearing thats the problem or her understanding.

Firsttimer7259 Tue 11-Oct-11 13:35:01

If understanding seems to be the problem then this game is good for helping her learn words like on in under etc Sometimes children have a wide vocabulary but are lacking in certain types of words like prepositions even though they have loads of nouns or adjectives. So all you need to do is spend a bit more time teaching those types of words

ragged Tue 11-Oct-11 13:37:27

shapes, colours, recognises numbers up to 10 and is starting to recognise a few letters.

My 3yo can do none of that (I am not worried, either).

But she can't follow the most simple instructions. Such as "can you put the spoon in the sink for me please?"

There are a lot of keywords in that very long sentence:


You could reduce it to
"Please put the spoon in the sink"
or even
"The spoon goes in the sink"

DS is speech delayed & we did a lot of exercises to do with him hearing the key words in sentences better. I am still not sure if he could do your exercise except by hearing the words "spoon" and "sink" and deducing the rest.

Does she definitely know what a "sink" and "spoon" are?

However, it may be that your child is also receptive speech delayed, you could query a SALT about it.

LibbyLou123 Tue 11-Oct-11 14:07:36

Thanks for the advice everybody. Her speech is getting there. I understand most of what she says, although I think other people struggle to understand her sometimes.
I don't think she has problems hearing, it does seem to be more the actual understanding of what I've asked her to do.
I just find it quite strange that she seems ahead of some of her friends in regards to colours, shapes, numbers and letters. But doesn't seem to understand simple instructions, that other children her age and even younger all seem to understand. I think she has got used to following instructions like tidying toys away and getting her coat on as it's something we do several times a day. I guess you're right nannyintheknow, I need to actually show her how to follow new instructions. She just seems to need it broken down into really simple terms.

lingle Tue 11-Oct-11 14:17:15

Libbylou, hi, my very bright son also couldn't do this at 3. I think you need to get her hearing tested and consider going to see a speech therapist.

If you take her to the doctor and say "she doesn't seem to understand simple things I say to her" and ask him/her to give her a simple instruction, that should get you in the system.

My son is now just 6 and completely fluent, by the way. if it does turn out to be a language problem, you'll hopefully be too busy helping her along to worry.

if you change just one thing today, strip your language down to basics as ragged was suggesting - as if you were talking to a speaker of another language.

good luck.

Thzumbiewitch Tue 11-Oct-11 14:26:38

Libby - my DS can do the things you have mentioned (he is 3.10) except for recognising letters etc. but if you give him an instruction, he can get very bewildered, especially if it involves looking at or for something. I am also a touch worried about it - it seems the more I try to decode the instruction for him, the more confused he becomes - I don't know what this is all about!

For e.g. - I will say please pick up your toys (no problem - he'll do that).
Please put the soft toys in the pink bucket - he can manage that.
Please put your cars in their garage and the books in the blue bucket - confusion may start, fair enough.
but where it gets truly awful is if he can't immediately see the think I'm referring to. So "Please pick up that book, that one, there, the one by your foot, no not behind you, right by your foot, just look down it's right there, no, not over by your toys, you were standing right on it!, that one (pointing), the one on the floor look it's right there..." argh! Of course I don't say all that in one hit, it's all interspersed with gaps while he looks around, even down past the book, and just seems utterly incapable of grasping anything about what I am saying.
Too much instruction, perhaps? Or the confusion from one small part of the instruction then spreading until he understands nothing, it's just like white noise that he's hearing - I'm not sure. But I have found that going slower, single words etc. make no difference to him - I have to go and almost rescue him from the situation. And because he's only 3.10, I can't say "which word don't you understand?" because he doesn't know.

I'm working on the principle that he will get better at this as he gets older - I hope your DD does too.

ragged Wed 12-Oct-11 14:15:23

Ooh, I can remember my mother (for years) getting enraged at me because she'd ask me to go find her handbag & I would come back empty-handed. Then she'd go and find it easily, of course.

I eventually figured out that I only looked around the room at about chair height; therefore a handbag on a table or the floor was impossible for me to see. I had to learn to look for things at all levels.

I think there might be an element of the same thing with these 3yos who don't get instructions. They are following the instrux with conditions they presume are reasonable based on previous life experience, but it's actually limiting their awareness.

Not sure I've explained myself well, but it comes down to limited life experiences.

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