Commands Game

by Daniel T. Moore, Ph. D.

Many children have problems with memory. To determine the amount of memory problems your child has, play memory games with them and compare them to their peers. Psychologists often look at memory by the scores on digit span sub-test of an intelligence test. If you feel your child can improve in memory, the following game can be a fun way to develop auditory memory.

The purpose of this exercise is to increase your child's ability to remember instructions that are given to him/her. Some children cannot remember two, three or four instructions simultaneously. Often they will forget even single commands. Play this game often to strengthen your child's short term memory and help them become less distracted when following commands.

Start the game by telling your child about the game. If desired, other siblings can participate. The game's object is to see how many commands the child can successfully complete. Most children can get up to four, so four commands is a good starting point. For example, you may suggest: "First bring me a tissue, second, put the dish rag in the dirty laundry, third, turn on the light, and fourth, put the magazine in the magazine rack.

If the child is able to do all four, give him/her lots of verbal praise. Really make a big deal at being able to complete four commands. Next, ask the child if he/she is ready to do five commands. Make up five more simple commands. If he/she completes all five, give a lot of verbal praise. Keep playing the game until the child forgets one of the commands. It is not important that the child complete the simple commands in the order that they were given.

When the child forgets one of the commands, the game simply ends for that day. Congratulate the child in getting the amount of commands he/she was able to do. This is the child's current record. Next time the goal will be to beat the child's record. If more than one child plays the game, parent's must stress for each child to beat their own record and not worry about how the other siblings are doing. A valuable principle can be taught when you stress competing against yourself rather than comparing yourself with others. If your goal is to improve your child's short term memory, this game should be played at least daily, six times a week. Once 12 simple commands are remembered on a consistent basis, the child is ready to learn complex commands. Complex commands are activies that require several steps (e.g., wash the dishes, carry out the trash). A good goal for a child is to be able to remember four complex commands.

Do not be authoritative about playing the game. Keep the game fun. You can add incentives to get the children to enjoy playing it. For example, you could say that if everyone breaks or matches his/her own record, the family can go to McDonald's or rent a video.

Step-by Step

1. Choose a time each day that you can play this simple game with your child. ________

2. Complete the following sheet each day to help you with your memory. Each line should have a specific task written in that the child can complete without leaving the room (e.g., bring me the book, turn on the lamp, put the blue ball on the coffee table).

Trial 1.

Command 1. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 2. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 3. ___________________________________________________________________

Trial 2.

Command 1. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 2. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 3. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 4. ___________________________________________________________________

Trial 3.

Command 1. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 2. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 3. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 4. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 5. ___________________________________________________________________

Trial 4.

Command 1. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 2. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 3. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 4. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 5. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 6. ___________________________________________________________________

Trial 5.

Command 1. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 2. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 3. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 4. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 5. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 6. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 7. ___________________________________________________________________

Trial 6.

Command 1. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 2. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 3. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 4. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 5. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 6. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 7. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 8. ___________________________________________________________________

Trial 7.

Command 1. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 2. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 3. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 4. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 5. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 6. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 7. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 8. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 9. ___________________________________________________________________

Trial 8

Command 1. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 2. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 3. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 4. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 5. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 6. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 7. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 8. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 9. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 10. __________________________________________________________________

Trial 9

Command 1. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 2. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 3. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 4. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 5. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 6. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 7. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 8. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 9. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 10. __________________________________________________________________

Command 11. __________________________________________________________________

Trial 10

Command 1. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 2. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 3. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 4. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 5. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 6. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 7. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 8. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 9. ___________________________________________________________________

Command 10. __________________________________________________________________

Command 11. __________________________________________________________________

Command 12. __________________________________________________________________

Step 3. Play the game. Start off with Trial 1. Go as long as your child can remember the items without being prompted. When he fails, stop the game. If he does well, go to the next trial.

Note: You will not have to fill out Trial 10 each time you play the game. Keep the commands the same on Trial 10 until he masters Trial 9. You will have to rewrite the trials he completed successfully the day before. This way you are helping his short term auditory memory and not long term memory. It is usually the short term memory that is a problem. Some parents may feel that Trial 7 or Trial 8 is a good goal to work toward. Play this game at least 4 times a week. You can stop when your child's memory is at Trial 7 or Trial 10. If your child has mastered Trial 3, you need not start on Trial 1 each day. You can start on Trial 4.

Step 4. Provide rewards for successful work. This increases motivation so that your child looks forward to the game every day. A good attitude also helps memory increase faster.

Step 5. After the simple commands are mastered, your child is ready for complex commands (commands that take more that one or two steps). Complete the following form for complex commands (e.g., take out the trash, make a peanut and jelly sandwich).

Trial 1.

Complex Command 1. __________________________________________________________

Complex Command 2. _________________________________________________________

Trial 2.

Complex Command 1. __________________________________________________________

Complex Command 2. _________________________________________________________

Complex Command 3. __________________________________________________________

Trial 3.

Complex Command 1. __________________________________________________________

Complex Command 2. _________________________________________________________

Complex Command 3. _________________________________________________________

Complex Command 4. __________________________________________________________

Note: Only do one trial a day. Once the child has mastered Trial 1, go to Trial 2 on the next day. Trial 3 is enough memory for most children. When your child has mastered Trial 3 you should be proud of him/her. Keep giving the rewards to keep this a game and not just a bunch of chores.

Step 6. Encourage your child to use his/her memory in school, around the house and at play.

If your child can remember seven simple tasks and four complex tasks, he probably has enough short term memory to get him through most school assignments and home instructions. Short term memory can be a problem for many ADHD children. The command game can help develop memory ability.


Return to the Family Clinic