She is twelve. She won’t cooperate at home and does the minimum she has to do in session, too. She is passive-aggressive. For example, I’ll ask her to do a drawing or ask her a question and she’ll draw a stick figure or shrug. Her attitude is, “I don’t want to do much, I’d rather sit home and watch t.v.”
Angry twelve-year-olds are supposed to be passive-aggressive. Not only is it the law, it is part of the human genetic structure. The down side is, of course, that depressive behavior can become habitual.
Since you want this child to be different than she is when she is with you, and the mother wants this child to be different than she is when she is with the mother, then there is no difference between the time the girl spends with you and the time she spends with her mother. It seems it would be less expensive for the girl simply to stay at home with her mother.
Begin immediately to provide a different environment, one where there are no expectations, no investments, no criticisms, no name-calls, and no disapprovals.
- Tell her you noticed that you have been expecting her to be different. Tell her you are not going to do that anymore. Lay out clear limits: she has to come, she cannot hurt herself, she cannot hurt you, and she can break these things but not those things. Everything else is okay. Then sit back and be with her. Be quiet, tell stories, read stories, mess with the sand tray, whatever you want. She can be quiet, withdraw, be mad, talk with you, wander around the room, daydream or bring a book, whatever she wants. Find the part of you who sees the miracle in her. She will have the amazing and healing experience of living one hour a week where someone accepts her just the way she is.
- When you do invite her to do something, invite indirectly.
- Take responsibility for your invitations rather than demand responses from her. Even well-meaning questions like “How are you today?” can be perceived as a demand for a response.
- When you invite her to engage in conversation, try some I wonder’s:
“I wonder what you’ll draw today.”
At the end of the month her parents are going to ask me what to do with her.
- Tell the girl about the upcoming phone call. Wonder if she can think of anything her parents could do to make it better at home. She may only be able to tell you nonverbally, so have your receiver turned on.