Going through a divorce is a difficult and emotional experience for your family. In some cases, roughly 11 percent of all divorces with children involved, one parent may be guilty of parental alienation syndrome.
Parental alienation syndrome occurs when one parent deliberately attempts to distance their child from the other parent. This is done for many reasons, such as an attempt to punish an ex-spouse or some type of personality disorder that keeps the alienating parent from acting in a rational manner.
It’s important to realize that parental alienation syndrome is not widely accepted by family courts in the United States and therefore is not used very often because there are few precedents.
Types of Parental Alienation
There are three types of parental alienation, and they include:
1. Mild Alienation: This occurs when some programming has been done to the child, but it may not affect visitations. In this case, both parents need to be counseled on the effects of parental alienation on their child.
2. Moderate Alienation: This may result in the alienating parent programming the child as well as the alienated parent having trouble with the child during visitations. The child may feel the need to protect or fight for the parent who is doing the alienating. The child may also be experiencing an internal struggle with themselves. Family court intervention is necessary at this point to handle these cases.
3. Severe Alienation: This results in a complete disregard on the part of the child for the parent who has been alienated, as well as other family members. Severe psychiatric orders can appear in the child. The remedy for this situation is for the child to be placed with the alienated parent, and a child psychologist should be consulted to treat the child for this condition.
It’s important to remember that parental alienation syndrome purported by one parent against the other is a form of child abuse.
Symptoms Of Parental Alienation
Parental alienation generally will develop over a period of time, and the early warning symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:
- One parent may lie and say the other parent no longer wants to be a part of the child’s life.
- The alienating parent may use weak or ridiculous arguments to promote hatred of the other parent to the child.
- The alienating parent will only support their child during a difficult time if it works in their favor.
- The parent will speak badly of the other parent to the child.
- The alienating parent may falsely accuse the other parent of abuse.
- The parent who is attempting to alienate the child will talk to the child about the divorce and the financial hardships they are facing because of the divorce. To the child, this may appear that if it wasn’t for the other parent, they wouldn’t be having these problems.
Additionally, it’s important not to underestimate the tactics of the alienating parent. The tactics an alienating parent may use add up to severe psychological abuse that can include terrorizing, isolating, corrupting, exploiting, and denying the child emotional responsiveness.
Hatred is not an emotion that comes naturally to most children; it must be taught. Any parent who teaches their child to hate or fear their other parent is an extreme danger to the mental and emotional health of their child.
Effects of Parental Alienation Syndrome on the Child
Children who fall victim to parental alienation syndrome may experience:
- Low self-esteem
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Lack of trust
Treatment for Parental Alienation Syndrome
In order to be treated successfully, parental alienation syndrome requires the court to intervene and limit the child’s access to the alienating parent. The child should also be seen by a child psychologist to be “deprogrammed.”
Children who have been the victim of parental alienation syndrome may grow up without the skills to make rational choices their entire lives, and will always be dependent on someone to help them. Moreover, they may have trouble in social relationships and have other psychiatric conditions manifest themselves throughout their life.
What to Do if Your Child is Falling Victim to Parental Alienation
There are steps a parent can take if they believe their child is becoming a victim of parental alienation. They include:
- Don’t Give Away Your Power: If the child or your ex-spouse is giving you trouble, don’t buy into it. Don’t appear to be weak or unstable. Try not to break down and cry in front of your child. Know that the alienating parent always appears confident and strong. Don’t ever let your child see you appear to be an emotional wreck.
- You Are Not Your Child’s Friend: You are a parent, not their friend, and you must show that you are the decision-maker in the relationship between you and your child. You also want to make sure your child understands that their opinion is valuable to you. Additionally, any negotiations between you and your child need to be done with the child knowing you are in charge. Your child will feel more secure knowing that their parents set boundaries.
- Know You Are In a Psychological Battle: Before you say anything, think about how your child will feel when you talk to them and act accordingly. As an example, some parents attempt to get their child to do something and say things like, “Come with us, it will be more fun with you there.” Think about how your child will feel after hearing this. They will feel valued. Ask yourself if your child will feel valued before you speak to them. How will what you say affect your child?
- Have Empathy: You must show your child empathy at all times. This doesn’t mean to be a pushover; it only means that you want to connect to your child with confidence. Do things such as look your child in the eyes when you talk to them, or touch them with warmth. What you are doing is being a role model of experience to your child, and they need to learn this behavior.
- Don’t Have a Power Struggle: It’s important to remember that you are up against your ex-spouse, who may be trying to alienate you from your child. Reflect to your child what you see. For example, if your child appears angry, say something like: “I see that you are angry with me and that you don’t want to spend any time with me.” What you are doing is mirroring back to the child.
- Listen to Your Child: It’s important that you practice active listening without personalizing. Listen more than you speak, and don’t interrupt, disagree, or evaluate. Don’t spend a lot of time in your head thinking about how you want to respond, but only focus on what your child is really saying.
- You Want a Voluntary Agreement: You don’t want to have to coerce your child into having a relationship with you. Allow your child to make the decision to be in a relationship with you. All you need to do is put yourself in your child’s place and think about how they may feel. Don’t make any assumptions without thinking it through.
- Don’t Try to Control: Your goal is to get your child to choose you freely without you controlling their decisions. This can be extremely difficult, because you don’t want them to be disrespectful toward you. You need to spend some time figuring out how to demand respect and give them their freedom of choice. If you try to control your child, they will more than likely resist and fall further into the trap of the alienating parent.
- Don’t Lose Yourself: Keep yourself in check at all times in front of your child. Don’t pay attention to the grief you may receive from other people in your life, and trust yourself. You need to be strong and stable, even if you don’t feel that way. Children will gravitate to strong and confident people. They don’t feel secure around people who don’t give off strength or have personal boundaries in place.
- Use Caution if Reading Books on Parenting: Don’t forget that just because something is in writing, it might not be useful or apply to your individual situation. Many parenting books don’t take into consideration parental alienation syndrome.
Remember that your child feels helpless and without power during a divorce. They may believe that if they choose one parent over the other, as is the case with parental alienation syndrome, the conflict they have to live with will stop. The alienating parent costs their child the other parent, and their only motivations are revenge, anger, and/or jealousy. It’s extremely important that both parents are willing to parent cooperatively after a divorce and that both you and your ex-spouse put the best interest of your child, their security, and well-being over everything else.