Parents make many requests of children in a day and many we don’t truly think through. When we ask children to do a chore like ‘carry the shopping bags inside’ or ‘take care of the leaves on the deck,’ it may seem so simple that we neglect to provide explicit instructions. A child may bring the bags inside but leave them by the front door rather than the kitchen where they belong. The child might sweep the leaves off the deck yet leave the unsightly mess around the deck rather than mulch the leaves them or put them by the curb.
My brothers and I did many such chores and sometimes our parents would laugh at our childish logic. Dad told fifteen-year-old Danny once, “Build a trough for the hog pen today.” Danny took three small planks and turned out a trough that looked more like a doll crib. The trough should have been at least five times that size. Dad wasn’t laughing; “How could a farm boy make such a mistake?”
Mom told me one day, “Pick the green beans then wash them good.” Still new to gardening I did as she asked; I picked the beans— a whole bushel— and then went to the horses’ water trough and washed the beans. Today I know a horses’ trough is not sanitary but as a twelve-year-old I was clueless. I did as I was told so why was she so mad?
A mother in my Parents Anonymous group told us about an experience she had with her sixteen-year-old daughter to illustrate a point. Charlotte* said, “I wrote my daughter a note to take the lasagna out of the refrigerator and put it in the oven at 4 p.m. When I got home I saw she put the lasagna in the oven but she neglected to turn the oven on and the lasagna was still cold.” Charlotte said the joke was on her; the daughter had done everything she had asked.
For an English assignment once, a teacher asked us to describe an air conditioner to someone from a jungle. The exercise made us think about words to use and how to explain step-by-step how you get cold air from a box. When children are learning something new they need precise instructions with every step needed to complete the task.
Giving children clear, detailed directions are a must if you want a task done correctly. Children may need the steps written down rather than trying to remember everything. Complete instructions can also save time and money in the long run rather than having to redo an assignment.
*Not her real name.