Instructions: Be Clear and Concise

Grandchildren visiting their Grandma were given complete instructions before attempting to pump water for the animals.

By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | April 8, 2015

Unless you are a mind reader, if a person gives you a job, the first thing you need to know is how they want it done – it’s the same with children.

Parents make many requests of children in a day and most we do not 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 directions. A child may bring the bags inside but leave them by the front door rather than to 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 frown at our childish logic. Dad told fifteen-year-old Mickey once, “Build a trough for the hog pen today.” Mickey took three small planks and turned out a trough that looked more like a small doll crib. The hog 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 by dunking them up and down. Today I know a horses’ trough is not sanitary but as a twelve-year-old child 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 freezer 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 frozen.” Charlotte admitted the joke was on her; the daughter had done everything she had asked.

For a high school English assignment once, a teacher asked us to describe an air conditioner to someone in the jungle that never had electricity. 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 for the first time. Subsequently instructions may not be required but it helps to ask.

If my father had given clear instructions – with measurements – Mickey might have done the job correctly and not wasted lumber. With precise instructions I would have washed the beans as they should have been. And Charlotte would have enjoyed a restful dinner instead of having to cook when she got home.

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.

Did you or your kids ever get an assignment wrong? What happened? How were things changed to prevent future mistakes?

WEEKLY QUOTES: Forgiveness

The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway. ~Henry Boye

It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission. ~Grace Hopper

The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and for deeds left undone. ~Harriet Beecher Stowe, Little Foxes, 1865

When you realize you’ve made a mistake, make amends immediately. It’s easier to eat crow while it’s still warm. ~Dan Heist

The only correct actions are those that demand no explanation and no apology. ~Red Auerbach

It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend. ~William Blake

Never ruin an apology with an excuse. ~Kimberly Johnson

True remorse is never just a regret over consequence; it is a regret over motive. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960

Apology is a lovely perfume; it can transform the clumsiest moment into a gracious gift. ~Margaret Lee Runbeck

If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting? ~Stephen Levine

Keep your words soft and tender because tomorrow you may have to eat them. ~Author Unknown

In some families, please is described as the magic word. In our house, however, it was sorry. ~Margaret Laurence

An apology is a good way to have the last word. ~Author Unknown

Remember, we all stumble, every one of us. That’s why it’s a comfort to go hand in hand. ~Emily Kimbrough

Not the fastest horse can catch a word spoken in anger. ~Chinese Proverb

PHOTO: Courtesy of Franklin B Thompson Under Flicker/CC License.

Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.

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About Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

Jackie has volunteered for more than twenty years for children and family issues. Currently she writes for parents in the "Reminder" and "Parent Rap" Facebook page. If you are interested in receiving the "Reminder," send her a message.
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6 Responses to Instructions: Be Clear and Concise

  1. There was a “video game” a few years back where you had to type text commands to get your character onto a toilet seat and ready to do business within 30 seconds. Similar to the AC example, that got me thinking about how many steps aren’t communicated in all kinds of instructive discourse. Now, if Li’l D is having trouble with something, I think of that video game and try figuring out which step(s) I’ve accidentally omitted. 🙂


    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      Bingo, Deborah! We have all done the same thing, not communicated well. I remember a similar video game but I’m not sure if it was timed. In school we had another exercise about explaining to this same jungle native about ‘smoking tobacco.’ That challenge gave us a mental workout and also showed many of us how pointless smoking cigarettes truly was. I’m glad you liked this and commented. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Another great post, Jackie – Thank You.
    Kids respond well to direction and boundaries and need clear rules…and i’ve found over the years so do most of us adults!

    Big Hugs


    Liked by 1 person

    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      Thank you so much, John, I appreciate your feedback. You are absolutely correct on that; rules and direction are what make the world go around.
      Hugs back, John.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Chores: Let Kids Do What Works | Parent Rap

  4. I like this one: Never ruin an apology with an excuse. ~Kimberly Johnson


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