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#61: Using Following Instructions in daily routines


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When giving Effective Negative Consequences, there are things that parents should never use as these are basic rights that children are entitled too. They are common sense things but include access to healthy foods, clothing, education, safety, shelter, and sleep.

When giving effective consequences, it’s essential to make sure you are not infringing on their rights. Taking away fundamental rights will create considerable problems in your relationships and could have other, unforeseen, consequences.

There are things that kids would like to tell you are basic rights that aren’t. Access to cell phones, video games, computer time, time with friends, use of the car, fancy clothing, or junk food are not basic rights. Those things are privileges and absolutely could be used as an Effective Negative Consequence.

This means you can’t withhold dinner, which is a basic right, but you could withhold a dessert or treat as those aren’t basic rights.

When making Consequences Effective, it’s important to use the five components of the behavior skill of Effective Negative Consequences. We discussed the five components in Episode #55.  We discussed the five components of Effective Positive Rewards in Episode #56. Review those podcast if you need help making rewards or consequences effective.

While Effective Negative Consequences are valid and needed, parents will find that Effective Positive Rewards is more powerful in increasing positive behavior.

Every time a parent gives a child a consequence, they are creating a divide between their themself and their child. Shifting from a negative mind frame (Effective Negative Consequences) to a positive mind frame (Effective Positive Rewards) will be more beneficial in increasing positive behavior.

Effective Positive Rewards shows a child what they can gain by behaving a certain way, and that is much more powerful than what they could lose.

For example, if your child struggles with doing their homework, telling them they could earn 30 minutes of screen time is more effective than saying they’d lose 30 minutes of screen time.

Effective Positive Rewards helps a child take ownership of their behavior, especially if they have a say in what rewards they can earn.

Many parents have found our free Behavior Contract to be effective in giving child ownership of their behavior as it spells out the four rewards or the one consequence a child could earn.

It will take an effort to move from a mind-frame of consequences to rewards, but we promise that it will be worth the effort. 

For questions about making rewards or consequences effective in your situation, sign-up for a free 15-minute ADHD Parenting Coaching mini-session.

Sign-up for a free 15-minute ADHD Smarter Parenting Coaching mini-session: https://www.smarterparenting.com/adhd-parenting-podcast/

Help the ADHD Smarter Parenting Podcast continue. Donate today! https://www.smarterparenting.com/donate-now/

Episode Transcript

This is episode 61. Let’s get started.

Smarter Parenting welcomes you to our podcast series, The Parenting Coach for ADHD. Here to heal and elevate lives is your Parenting Coach, Siope Kinikini.

Siope Kinikini: Hey everybody. I hope everybody’s doing great. We are actually on location in Cincinnati and I am grateful to be here with Kurt Furhman. Kurt actually works at Thornwell, which is in South Carolina and he works with teen girls. And we are going to be talking about Following Instructions and the way that that skill works. So I’m super grateful to have you here, Kurt. Thank you. Thank you.

So, I want to talk about Following Instructions as a skill. It seems like a fairly simple skill because there aren’t a lot of steps really, for parents to take. And one of the questions we get often is this looks a little too simple. In your work with the girls, how effective is Following Instructions like going through those steps.

Kurt Furhman: Yeah, it is. Following instructions is one of those skills that we look at first.

Siope Kinikini: Okay.

Kurt Furhman: A child coming into The Cottage is going to have that right away, is going to be one of their first skill sets. And something that I’ve learned over our time is that you can’t assume something is simple or obvious. Because these kids are coming from environments where that normal parenting isn’t happening.

Siope Kinikini: Right.

Kurt Furhman: And so just assuming that someone can take an instruction and follow it, is just not healthy. And so what we typically will do with a kid that’s coming in, we put it to use right away and we tend to couple that with Asking Permission as well because that’s again a skill that they struggle and those pair really well together.

Siope Kinikini: Right.

Kurt Furhman: And then it also allows them to come back to us and go, “All right, am I supposed to do this?” And we can give them some guidance as we go through. And for us, we try to start small, especially if we have a kid that just has basically been able to do whatever they wanted. They have a hard time with following rules and following guidelines and policies within the house and at school even. And sometimes it’s just those small wins of even asking a child to sit down and sit calmly so we can talk. That simple instruction and then uber praise it when they are able to accomplish that.

Siope Kinikini: Right.

Kurt Furhman: And it seems silly, right?

Siope Kinikini: Right. It does. It does, yeah.

Kurt Furhman: Because it just seems like something that anybody should be able to do, especially somebody who’s 15, 16-years-old. But a lot of these kids that come to us because of trauma emotionally are sometimes only 8, 10-years-old. And so they have the same responses and abilities as an 8 or 10-year-old, even though they’re 15. And it’s easy to forget that and it’s easy to get even frustrated with that when you’re like, “You’re 16 you should be able to do this,” right?

Kurt Furhman: I think that’s important. Just not to assume and be able to take that time to go back to those basic things because learning Following Instruction at its basic core is what everything else builds off of. Learning any other skill is about following that instruction of that skill.

Siope Kinikini: Right, right.

Kurt Furhman: And so I think it’s really foundational for anyone working with the Teaching-Family Model to be able to build that foundation so that you have a strong support.

Siope Kinikini: I love what you’re saying. And the reason that I love it is because it is a foundation. I mean, when we think about Following Instructions, it spans almost everything else in the child’s life for success. I mean, being able to just follow simple instructions from an adult, and then from a boss and then from, you know what I mean? It just kind of bleeds into everything else. And so is there any suggestions you have for parents who have children that are really fighting against practicing this skill? Like what do you do?

Kurt Furhman: Yeah. Well for us, you know, a lot of times if we have a kid that’s just completely refusing, use what we call extended management. Where we essentially disengage and say, “All right, until you’re able to follow this task, then we’re no longer able to engage.” Don’t like silence. Nobody likes silence, right? Nobody likes just kind of being shut off. And so it’s amazing how you could have a kid even in full meltdown and you just disengage and say until you follow this simple task of sitting at a table and sitting calmly, or whatever the task might be, we can’t talk. And they will turn around very quickly. It’s amazing.

Siope Kinikini: Okay, so in a way, if you’re dealing with a highly resistant child, it’s okay to take a break and say-

Kurt Furhman: Absolutely.

Siope Kinikini: I’m going to take a break. We’re going to come back to this, but we’re not letting this go.

Kurt Furhman: It seems counterintuitive.

Siope Kinikini: Okay.

Kurt Furhman: When we first started, we started in a house that was a little bit younger and they had some extreme behaviors and the concept of disengaging where my natural instinct was, “No, we need to uber engage, right? We need to control the situation.” And it was amazing to see just backing off how that just stopped the child because it removed that audience. It removed the attention they were trying to get, and suddenly they come back into line and then you give them the attention for doing it appropriately and suddenly now they want to seek that approval.

Siope Kinikini: All right. Do you have any stories of teaching Following Instructions and how it’s been successful?

Kurt Furhman: Yeah, I think, when I look over the years, like I said, it’s a little different with younger versus the older kids. But with the younger kids I think, we’ve had some that were very hard. I’ve had kids that have just completely tried getting in your face to get you mad and to just refuse to do anything that you’ve asked him to do and tear up the house while doing it. But yet those are the kids that over time, and I think that the key thing is, is building a relationship with the kids. When you have that trust, they know that you have their best interest, even though they don’t like what you’re asking them to do. And I think that gives you a little leverage to move them in that direction of being able to do it. But in the short term, especially as you’re in that initial stage, I think trusting The Model is the most important thing.

Siope Kinikini: Okay.

Kurt Furhman: It’s so easy to feel like, all right, I need to get control of this. And in the sense of if you just trust The Model, it works.

Siope Kinikini: Yeah.

Kurt Furhman: I mean time and time again and we’ve said that in some of our sessions here at the conference, the not feeling like, you don’t have to be this master’s degree or doctorate degree person that knows all this stuff. It’s just trusting The Model and following the steps and it works. It turns kids around and I’ve seen it happen time and time again. And some of the hardest kids I’ve had are the ones that when it was time for them to leave, they were almost sad to leave.

Kurt Furhman: And to hear a child that was, their job in their family was to be the fighter, the protector of the family and was always violent and in trouble, to see that same child after being with us and leaving, crying, asking, “Why do I have to go? You’ve kept me safe. I’m safe here.” Like just to know that that happened. But it was because we followed The Model with him. We were consistent with it, and he was able to learn that.

Kurt Furhman: I’ve had some kids in The Cottage where, especially ones that are that ADHD, kind of that ping pong ball, those are the hardest ones I think because they get distracted so quickly. And I think the important thing there is you can’t give complicated instructions.

Siope Kinikini: Okay.

Kurt Furhman: If you give multiple step, they’re going to get distracted, something sparkly, it’s going to catch their eye between one and two. Step one and two, and they’re going to be gone. And so it’s just natural. So you may want a certain task but cut it up, give a small instruction that they can complete very quickly. Then give another instruction. You can’t just give it all out because they won’t be able to do it because they, their minds won’t allow them to, they’ll be off in left field.

Siope Kinikini: So let’s say there’s a parent and they want their child to take the garbage out. There’s a lot of distractions. This child is highly inattentive. Then how would you break that skill down? How would you break that task down?

Kurt Furhman: Yeah, I think with, let’s say, taking out the garbage. I would say, that one I would build into routine. Routines are great for teaching Following Instruction. Whether it be your morning routines or your evening routines, but if the garbage was always going out at the same time each day, so that it made sense to them that this was just the time to do that. Versus the garbage is full and you don’t want to deal with it anymore. Now we’re dealing with, they’re on TV and you’re asking them to stop TV, to take out the trash, that’s going to cause a conflict, right? That’s going to cause a battle. 

Kurt Furhman: But if there’s a consistency there of maybe after dinner, everybody puts their plates away, we scraped the plates, and then the garbage goes out. By building that into a routine, it’s more natural and you’re not pulling them away from something that they’re wanting. And so I think that that helps a lot if you can build it into the routine of the, the rhythm of your home.

Siope Kinikini: This is amazing information, holy cow, because my brain is going a million miles an hour thinking about how you can structure Following Instructions to just simple things like if you have the expectation that we’re going to just all do this, then you can start teaching Following Instructions because it’s just part of it and then integrating that into them following other instructions.

Kurt Furhman: Absolutely.

Siope Kinikini: Right. Wow. Okay. My mind is blown. So integrating Following Instructions to things that you normally do is a fast and easy way to get them on board and then you start expanding it to more difficult things.

Kurt Furhman: Yeah, absolutely. And I think when they do things correctly, breaking it down for them after the fact in that praise moment so that they see that what they did was really good and that it actually helped them get it done faster, right? It only took you like 30 seconds to take the garbage out because we did it right in this moment. And they realize that, “Oh, this saves time just to do it as we’re doing it instead of waiting till later.” And they see that benefit. And that follows into doing homework. Hey, when you get home from school, if you just get it done right away, then you can just play the rest of the night.

Kurt Furhman: And they see that that frees up time for them to do what they want. And so versus give them what they want right away and then now you’re battling trying to pull them away to do homework. It’s that finding those rhythms that where it’s easy to give the instruction and it’s easy to guide them through that instruction.

Siope Kinikini: I love that. I absolutely love that. And I think a lot of parents will find that very helpful because really a house does run that way. I mean, there is a rhythm and once a parent can establish the rhythm, they can use Following Instructions in that rhythm.

Kurt Furhman: Well, even our own, as adults, we’re that way. Right?

Siope Kinikini: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Kurt Furhman: You know, my wife has for the last eight months has been getting up at 5:30 in the morning, which is a miracle for my wife because she can hibernate. But she’s been getting up at 5:30 in the morning every Monday, Wednesday, Friday to go to the Y and she swims. And she started out with just a couple of laps and now she’s doing over 50 laps. Even when she had gotten injured and had some surgery, she almost was panicking about not being able to maintain that routine because she knows if I break it, it’s going to be harder to get back. Once you get that routine, it’s so much easier to maintain it, right? And just keep it, because it’s natural. 

Kurt Furhman: And the same thing, if we create a routine where those instructions are being built into that, it becomes more natural and it’s easier to maintain it, it’s easier to guide, and then it’s easier to increase those instructions to grow that attention span to be able to handle larger tasks.

Siope Kinikini: Yeah, no, that’s great. So like taking out the garbage is one, cleaning your room would be another one. If you integrate that into the routine, how would you do, let’s say the room is completely messy.

Kurt Furhman: Yeah.

Siope Kinikini: How do you break that down with kids?

Kurt Furhman: Well, the way we do it, so we have eight teenage girls so you can imagine what that could look like.

Siope Kinikini: I don’t want to imagine what that looks like.

Kurt Furhman: So we have a morning routine that they are to get up, they get ready for school and they need to actually have their room in a ready state.

Siope Kinikini: Right.

Kurt Furhman: Which basically means their bed needs to be made. There can’t be anything laying on the floor. You know dirty clothes need to be in a hamper. Clean clothes need to be in a drawer or hanging and surfaces need to be orderly. And every morning that gets checked because of that, even though when they go in and they might start doing makeovers and things like that, it looks like a bomb went off, but it’s never stays that way. When they’re done with the task and needs to go back to that.

Kurt Furhman: Because they know in the morning they’re not going to have a lot of time and so they’ve kind of self-regulate their order in their room because they know it’ll make it easier in the morning when they have to get it ready. And then once a week we do a more deep clean where they really need to clean out all the stuff.

Siope Kinikini: Everything else.

Kurt Furhman: We just try to maintain. It just needs to look nice when we walk in, it can’t be in shambles. That’s an important thing to learn that even when they move on with life and they’d have their own place and somebody is not telling them, they need to see that I actually like this looking orderly clean. It’s more calming. It’s more enjoyable to be in that space than when it’s a mess.

Siope Kinikini: What I love about that is that you guys have integrated cleaning your room into the routine rather than making it an event. Which is what a lot of parents do. So a lot of parents are like, “Clean your room, it’s super messy.” But it’s out of the blue and it’s just kind of random and, really, kids will fight that.

Kurt Furhman: Yeah.

Siope Kinikini: More likely to fight that than they would.

Kurt Furhman: Well, and like I said, when you get those instructions into the routine of life, it doesn’t take long.

Siope Kinikini: No.

Kurt Furhman: Our kids can have their rooms put together within five minutes if they need to. And so because of that, it makes it easier, you don’t get as much pushback because it’s not worth pushing back for, because it’s only five minutes.

Siope Kinikini: Right.

Kurt Furhman: Whereas if we just let it go for a month and it’s a horrid mess, then it’s overwhelming. They don’t know where to start. They don’t know how to handle it. And then that same instruction of cleaning your room, suddenly becomes a battle because they don’t even know where to start.

Kurt Furhman: Now, if you find yourself in that position, I think there again, we go back to what we said in the beginning, break it up into small pieces because they can’t. They don’t have that ability to see that. And so that’s where I would say, “All right, let’s take all the dirty clothes and just put it in his hamper right here. So it just, that’s all I need you to do.” And you start with that task and that’s not overwhelming, right? Just pick up the clothes, throw it in the hamper. I’m done. Awesome. 

Kurt Furhman: Especially if it’s a young child where maybe that is an overwhelming thing. Give him a break, go have some time, and then say, “Okay, let’s work on something else. Let’s take all the toys and put them on the shelves.” And so they, they put it on the shelf, then you’re getting that root floor cleaning and I would pick those pieces that would have the biggest impact.

Kurt Furhman: So suddenly like, “Oh, like I wouldn’t start with dusting, right?”

Siope Kinikini: Right.

Kurt Furhman: I would start with those big things where things are just put in their place and suddenly the kid feels like they accomplish something. Now they get kind of excited about it. And then you’re like, “Hey, do you need help with your bed?” And sometimes even just asking for help and even if you’re just standing there as helper, just you being there is enough support for them to be able to get it done. But breaking that down and taking, and of course, it takes time on our part, right? And sometimes we don’t like that, especially at the end of a tired day. Last thing you want to do is more work, right? But I think it’s important. It’s an investment in the kid and we’ll help them and ultimately help you because you’re not, nobody likes conflict, nobody likes getting in those power struggles.

Siope Kinikini: I have loved everything that you’ve shared specifically about integrating Following Instructions into routines and then just making it a natural, kind of more natural, part of this is how our family works. This is how the system works in our home and we’re just going to naturally do this. We’ll start off with something that you naturally do and just integrate that into a consistent routine overtime with Following Instructions and it’s okay to give small instructions and then praise them for what they’re able to do.

Siope Kinikini: I love something you said earlier about you know, a child may present as like 16. They may be 16, but emotionally they’re not and so you kind of have to adjust. Like you have to be willing to adjust. So that’s fantastic. That is great. Now, one thing I did want to ask you is to just tell me briefly about Thornwell. What type of work do you guys do? Who do you guys work with?

Kurt Furhman: Yeah, well Thornwell has been around for 145 years. It started back after the civil war. Presbyterian minister saw a need. There were a lot of children without families after that and so it started up as an orphanage and today it has grown to a residential program, of course, but we also have services on campus to the community where we are preventatively working with families teaching these types of things to the families through our Strengthening Families program. 

Kurt Furhman: We’ve now had several cycles of that and it’s really amazing to see how families that were in crisis have actually been brought together. It’s something that the parents and the kids do together. So parents learn to be parents, and kids learn to be kids, and they learn to be family together through the program. And it’s amazing to see the stories that we hear from those.

Kurt Furhman: And then we have our Building Families program where we actually throughout South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, we have people that are going into the homes, again doing preventative care, teaching similar steps within the home, helping with specific issues that are going on there. We also have a school on campus, a number of other smaller programs that we run and we’ve just in the last three years started licensing foster parents. And so we have both the foster homes and the residential homes now.

Siope Kinikini: So in all of these you are using the Teaching-Family Model?

Kurt Furhman: In pretty much every of those, Teaching-Family Model is at the core of the teaching, yeah.

Siope Kinikini: That’s wonderful. And I’m just saying this to the people who are listening. You can see the range of different services where this Model is being implemented and different populations of kids in need and just how effective it can be.

Kurt Furhman: Absolutely. I think it can be very easy to get caught up in the tangible implementation of The Model within each of those things. You came to a group home, saw how we implement it. You’d be like, “I couldn’t do that in my own house.”

Siope Kinikini: Right.

Kurt Furhman: Right. And that’s what I think I love about your website. It has taken that Model, but wrapped it in a context that is very beneficial to just your natural home environment. It’s really, I think, a great work that you guys have done.

Siope Kinikini: Aww, thank you.

Kurt Furhman: I just think it’s a great thing, but understanding that bigger philosophy of what teaching families about. It’s about treating that kid regardless of their state as a person of value and being able to guide them in a kind way that allows them to develop as a person. And that’s really what Teaching-Family is about.

Siope Kinikini: It is. It’s about relationships. It’s about making that connection. It’s about helping people become independent and self-sufficient. It’s a wonderful thing. I want to thank Kurt for joining us. I think that this has been a fantastic review of how we can use Following Instructions in our daily lives.

Siope Kinikini: Be sure if you’re listening on Apple podcast to give us a five-star rating and you can get more information on the Smarter Parenting website. You’ll be able to get more information on this discussion and you can download a transcript of what we’ve talked about. You can see Following Instructions on the Smarter Parenting website. That skill is available there. You can see it in video format. It gives a parent explaining how to do it with two examples, one with a younger child and then with an older child and gives you suggestions and ideas of how you can implement it in your home. So jump over to the Smarter Parenting website to watch that video. We’d love to have your comments as well. And that’s it for me. I will see you again later.


Behavior skill: Following Instructions

Ep #53: The importance of Following Instructions

Steps of Following Instructions

Blog post: How I made Following Instructions work with toddlers

Blog post: How to teach your children Following Instructions

Blog post: Getting ADHD children to Follow Instructions

Behavior skill: Effective Praise

Teaching-Family Association site: Thornwell 

Ep #11: What is the Teaching-Family Model?

Ep #36: Relationships–the why of the Teaching-Family Model

Ep #58: The Teaching-Family Model is relationship focused

Behavior skills of the Teaching-Family Model

What is the Teaching-Family Model?

Our Teaching-Family Model Family

Free 15-minute ADHD coaching mini-session

Podcast sponsor Utah Youth Village

Support the ADHD Smarter Parenting Podcast. Donate.

Podcast Transcript

The transcript text is below. You can also download the PDF file of the transcript here.