HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

My Second-Grader Won't Follow Directions

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


My grandson yells at me when I tell him to do something (homework, change his clothes, eat, almost anything). He is very upset when I'm not around him, so it's not that he doesn't like being with me. I just don't know how to stop this problem. I've tried sending him to his room but to no avail. Any insight you may have would be appreciated.


I do not know if you are your grandchild's primary caregiver or if his parents are. However, when someone else besides the parent is the primary caregiver, there are some things to keep in mind. If the child has limited or no contact with his parents, it is important to consider that whatever events led to this circumstance will most likely cause stress and feelings of abandonment for the child.

The caregiver and child might want to address these issues and changes. The child might be fearful or angry, and so acting out by yelling or refusing to follow instructions is the child's way of communicating his stress. Being open to examining underlying causes of behavior can be useful in teaching children to express their feelings in more productive ways.

If you are a secondary caregiver, there could be confusion over the various discipline styles and the child is noncompliant as a result. If this is the case, you and the parents need to present the rules together and be clear about the consequences.

Other ideas:

  • Be sure you are modeling appropriate communication skills as much as possible. Avoid yelling.
  • Give simple instructions so that your grandson knows what to expect. Long commands are confusing.
  • Remind him to use a soft or inside voice rather than telling him "Stop yelling!"
  • Praise your grandson when he does comply and have a clear, appropriate response when he doesn't.
  • Consistency, structure, follow-through and clarity are helpful discipline approaches.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"My 2nd grader is doing way over the average on his NWEA tests. According to the scale he is more in the 5-6 grade level. The school has not said anything about putting him in more challenging classes, is this something I should try to pursue or is he best staying where he's at? It seems like they are mainly concerned for the ones to hit the avg. then they are for those who are there and not working to their potential. Thanks for your advice!"