Eight-year-old Amelia goes about her day mostly ignoring her mom, Andrea.
While Andrea tries to get Amelia to comply, she largely talks to her in an insecure and hesitant voice, with words that do not get Amelia’s attention. (“Now, come on Amelia, how about we start cleaning up?”).
Unfortunately, Andrea’s voice and language do not convey an expectation or belief that she thinks Amelia will comply.
The result is that Amelia tunes her out entirely.
To a child like Amelia, Andrea’s weak attempts to get her to do what she asks are like nails on a chalkboard, and she becomes annoyed by her mother’s ineffective requests.
Internally sneering at her mom’s weakness, Amelia dismisses and neglects her mother and any requests made.
As this dance between them continues, Andrea becomes increasingly irritated, and it begins to show.
After feeling completely dismissed, ignored, and disrespected, Andrea yells in rage, “Damn it, Amelia! I asked you to clean up. I’m sick of this. Why can’t you just listen the first time?”
Afraid of losing control even further, Andrea starts to angrily put away the toys while Amelia stands idly by.
After some time and seeing how angry her mother is, Amelia begins a halfhearted attempt to put away one toy at a time while her mother does 98% of the work.
This enrages Andrea even more.
What makes Andrea still angrier is that while Amelia slowly puts things away, her body becomes limp in a “guava jelly-like” state of noncompliance.
As she goes into this posture, it almost appears as if she lacks the musculoskeletal capacity to put the things away, even though twenty minutes ago she had energetically scattered them all around the room.
When the evening finally draws to a close, Andrea faces another ritual that she dreads—the nightly argument between her and her husband over Amelia’s behavior.
The negative feelings associated with this marital conflict then add even more fuel to her anger and frustration the next time that Amelia ignores her.
Excerpt from: Preventing the Power Struggle: A Guide for Parents of Challenging Children, Richard Selznick, Ph.D. (Sentient Publications)