We knew we were in trouble when Matt at only 3 1/2 would sit at the table for hours, refusing to finish his dinner. We’d try flying the airplane into the hangar, eating only three more bites, having a race with Daddy, taking a bite ourselves to show now nummy it was, displaying the scrumptious dessert reward, threatening with time out/spanking/early bedtime – but nothing would work. That kid would sit there until we gave up and sent him to bed.
As he grew older, it only became more apparent that he had his mother’s obstinacy and his father’s stubbornness. Call him “strong-willed,” “concrete random,” or “just plain difficult” – he’d probably have left home around age 14 if we hadn’t stumbled upon what I deemed the “Walk Away” policy.
Maybe it’s because he’s a firstborn, but Matt has a strong desire to do the right thing. We learned that if we laid out our expectations and then walked away, he would feel the pressure of those expectations and eventually do what he was supposed to. In his own time. But if we stood over him and insisted he do it now, on our time, it wasn’t gonna happen.
This won’t work with all personalities. For some kids, walking away will mean that they’ll forget completely what they’re supposed to be doing. But for the “I’ll-do-it-because-I-want-to-not-because-you-told-me-to” types, it’s a survival technique. It can keep you from getting sucked into a power struggle where you have to continually up the consequences (and then follow through with them). Most importantly, it can keep your relationship with your teen on a positive footing instead of having it deteriorate into resentment and hostility.
Matt’s a college student now. His stubbornness and desire to do what’s right have helped him to become a young man of integrity and purpose. When he was 17 he said to us, “When I have kids, I’m going to let you raise them when they become teen-agers. Because you did such a good job with us!”
Got a stubborn teen of your own? Try walking away and see what happens.