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Monday, September 12, 2011

Useful Parenting Tool: The Power to Walk Away

I am going to tell you a teaching and parenting story from my real life studio archives. This story I am about to share with you illustrates one of the most effective teaching and parenting tools I have ever discovered: the power to walk away.

Once upon a time I took a course in negotiation, and I learned many useful tips. The most important lesson I learned was: "don't lose the power to walk away." A person loses the power to walk away when they become afraid of the consequences of not reaching an agreement about something. They are afraid that they will lose any part of the opportunity if they do not agree with whatever is on the table at the moment. That is the point, however, when the negotiating power can be at its strongest, because the other side also has the fear of what they will lose when they walk away from the negotiating table.

What does this have to do with teaching and parenting? Absolutely everything. I say that with complete conviction because I have been observing children and their parents for almost four decades. The issue also trends in popularity at various times. Right now I find the issue quite common because parents are truly too busy to spend the time necessary to correct and instruct (discipline) the child concerning unacceptable behavior.

I have one truly terrific parent in my studio, however, and I want to share this amusing and powerful story with you.

Last week I had a lesson with a three year old who has been coming to lessons about six months and doing a terrific job learning how to play the violin. This last lesson, however, was not so great. The child's family routine had been disrupted due to some unexpected travel out of town to help a grandparent move. Although the mom did her best to maintain the child's practice, the schedule was disrupted, and the child was reacting unpleasantly to the change in routine. The practice sessions were not happy and were becoming less and less productive overall. Mom was doing everything short of standing on her head, and things had not improved.

At the child's lesson, I spent some time helping mom to come up with a few little practice games and routines to try at home. Then I began teaching the child. I got very little cooperation from the child. She fell apart like a jellyfish the minute I let go. She would not hold a single position in place. Finally, about five minutes from the end of her "lesson," the child stopped even turning her head to the left to put on the violin. She absolutely balked, and then refused to turn her head and put it on the violin.

I turned to mom at that point and said that was all for the lesson that day. "What was the fun thing that you WERE going to do after her lesson today and which is NOT happening now?" I hinted. Her mom told me that they had talked about buying a little toy on the way home from the lesson if the lesson had gone well, which it most definitely had not. I reminded mom that buying the toy would NOT happen now, would it?

It took the child about 30 seconds for the reality of the consequences to sink in. During that short window of time I quickly instructed the mom about what to expect and do next to be sure that we were both on the same page. I warned mom that there would be a huge blowup momentarily, and that it would be pretty nasty for about 20 minutes. And under absolutely NO CIRCUMSTANCES was the mom to change her mind or give the child an opportunity to earn the privilege back that day. The opportunity was completely lost. Period.

And that is when the caterwauling began. Wailing, crying, and desperate clinging measures were used. The child kept tugging on mom's arm and urgently repeating, "I'll be good, I'll be good, I'll be good! I'm sorry, mommy, I'll be good!" Mom started to turn around and talk to the child, probably in an attempt to calm the child down, but I engaged the mom in a pleasant conversation instead. Actually the two of us were trying very hard not to giggle at the situation, because we had predicted that this would happen. Mom could have asked the child to comply with any direction at that moment, as the child was completely compliant, obedient, and absolutely desperate to go buy that toy.

I am so sorry that we did not have a video camera running during the entire episode, because this was a classic "how to" video for parents. Thankfully, the child's mother is a great mom and is strong enough to withstand all the child's tactics.

Here is the power tool that my student's mom employed:

  • Say it once
  • Turn your back
  • Walk away

What do you say? "I'm sorry, but I didn't like [fill in the blank.] So, we are not going to do [fill in the blank.]" You do not discuss the matter any further than your first pronouncement. That is the "turn your back" and "walk away" part. And that, my friends, is the simple yet incredibly effective tool of "the power to walk away."

How does the story end? I got a text message from mom today: "I'm soooo happy! [The child] feels horrible about last week and has practiced everyday without drama. She'll say, 'I'll practice without the drama.' :)"

So the next time you are tempted to give in to your child's demands, remember to give "the power to walk away" a try.

If you want more information about how to use this tool effectively, read Dr. Kevin Leman's book Have a New Kid by Friday. You can purchase the book to read on your Kindle or Kindle app.


  1. This reminds me of the Million Dollar Lesson.
    Good job teacher and mom!

  2. Hi, Barb! Actually, this was indeed the Million Dollar Lesson. I explain how this works in my parent course, and we decide in advance how we will handle things in case this behavior problem happens. This was the first time for this child, so I wasn't sure if mom remembered what to do, hence the gentle hints. But it worked like a charm. thanks for the link to Ed Kreitman's site. I love his Balance Point book.

  3. Nice post.....Most of the kids are entrapped by the major child behavior problems like abnormal behavior, negative attitude, children behavior disorders which are regarded as to be harmful for their growth and development.find all information about
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  4. Thanks, Mary, for the resource link!

  5. Update: this week's lesson was absolutely fabulous! We accomplished so much! As I was tuning the 3 year old's violin, she apologized to me. When I asked her what she was sorry for, she told me that she had been bad at her last lesson, and that she was sorry and wouldn't do it again. WOW! From a 3 year old! Don't you wish that some adults were as mature?