My ten-year-old daughter was hiding in her bedroom closet because she didn’t want to do her homework. At first I argued with her to come out and get started, but it didn’t get me anywhere. So I gave her time, a little space, and tried again. Nothing. She refused to come out, and refused to talk, and refused to get working. I was at my wits’ end, like I often am with my daughter and school work.
Everything she was doing was on brand for a tween with ADHD. And sure, I thought about putting my foot down, pulling her out of the closet, sitting her butt down at the desk, and making her work. But if I’ve noticed anything about my daughter, coming at her with guns blazing makes her dig in even harder. Sometimes it results in her completely shutting down, and we get nowhere.
Some kids are just like this. Coming at them with force results in more force in return, and ultimately it solves nothing. Not that knowing this makes raising the child any easier or less frustrating. And if you look at the comments section on any parenting article, you will see plenty of parents go on and on about how parents nowadays need to cut through the crap, stop being their kid’s friend, and lean in with force and structure.
But I can say after raising my daughter for ten years, force, structure, arguing … none of that works for her. It never has.
So instead, I sat on the edge of her bed, Norah still in the closet, and thought about what I wanted in that moment. I wanted a lot of things. I wanted her to stop doing things like hiding in a closet to avoid homework. But mostly, I wanted her to finish her homework, and I knew it would never happen by trying to force my will.
Rather than arguing, or yelling, or pulling her out, I just went ahead and climbed into the closet with her and closed the door.
It was dark and we didn’t fit too well, but I made it a point to tell her that I was her father, and I wasn’t leaving without a compromise. I’m not sure how long I was in there, but eventually she started giggling when she noticed my knees were touching my face.
So I asked if she wanted to break bread.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“It’s where two warring parties put aside their differences, share a meal, and find a compromise.”
Now please keep in mind that I know breaking bread means to simply have a meal together. But my daughter didn’t know that. With Norah, sometimes the hardest part is getting her to just sit down and chat about what’s going on. When she gets frustrated, when she doesn’t want to engage, when she feels picked on, whatever it might be, she becomes a stone.
“Come on,” I said. “I think there’s some cookies in the pantry.”
Luckily she agreed, because my legs were cramping.
We went downstairs and sat at the table. She had two Oreos and I had a Pepsi Zero. We sat at the table, and there was something about us eating and chatting and looking at each other as equals, trying to figure out a compromise, that got her to talk. It stopped her from digging in so hard, which I must say, with a tween is a huge win regardless of the situation. It got her to express her frustrations and it got her to listen to some of mine.
But most importantly, it eased the tension we were both feeling that was preventing us from actually talking. It helped her to feel heard, which I must admit, is pretty important when you are a frustrated ten-year-old. And it helped me to feel heard, which is equally as important when you are the frustrated father of a ten-year-old.
We couldn’t have broken bread for more than 15 minutes. Considering she’d probably been in the closet for 45 minutes, this felt like a huge breakthrough, and we had gotten there without arguing. We set a couple new rules, and by the end she’d apologized to her mother and me, and started doing her homework. We even laughed a little as she finished off her last Oreo and I finished off my Pepsi.
The best part was I didn’t have to yell. I just had to get my daughter to the table to discuss concerns. I also had to listen, and so did she. She also needed to speak, which can be pretty difficult in moments like this. All it took was a couple cookies, which when you think about it, isn’t all that much.