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How to Avoid Parental Alienation and Why

By S. Dean Michaux, JD

Parental alienation syndrome is a psychological disorder that arises when one parent, whether consciously or unconsciously, engages in conduct that creates a divide between a child and a parent. Psychology Today lists many side effects that children suffer as a result of parental alienation, such as low self-esteem, lack of trust, depression, and substance abuse. Parental alienation often occurs in contentious custody or divorce suits where one parent carries ongoing animosity toward the other parent. Parental alienation may also occur through the actions of stepparents or other family members.

When a parent repeatedly projects their feelings about the other parent onto a child, that child can develop animosity toward the other parent. One parent making comments about the lack of financial support from another parent can create a sense of fear that the child will have to go without food, shelter, or clothing. Simple statements can lead a child to believe these outcomes and can create a sense of hate or distrust toward the other parent. Ongoing and repeated comments regarding the other parent can lead to a child developing a hatred for that parent. Refusing to allow the child to speak with the other parent, speaking negatively of the other parent in the presence of minor children, or not fostering a positive relationship with the other parent can lead to feelings of rejection and encourage further feelings of distrust and contempt in the child.

Warning signs that your child is suffering from parental alienation may include:

– the minor child expressing anger or speaking hatefully towards you;

– the child not wanting to spend time with you; or

– the child taking the other parent’s side when issues arise.

Children need and thrive in an environment where there is an active presence by both parents in the child’s life after divorce. Children need to have a safe, trusting, and caring relationship with their parents, especially when a family is separated. To prevent parental alienation:

– refrain from speaking negatively about the other parent in the presence of your minor child;

– don’t disparage the other parent to or around your child;

– don’t allow family members or new partners to disparage the other parent to or around your child;

– never include your child in discussions regarding court actions;

– never withhold parenting time, communication, or child support due to the other parent’s misconduct; and

– never express anger or fear of interactions between you and your former partner in front of your child.

If you think that your former partner may be causing your child to choose sides or fostering an environment that will lead to parental alienation, you should seek advice from a local family law attorney. Consider treatment by a therapist or mental health professional to help your child deal with not only the divorce but the long-term effects and emotions of parental alienation. Dealing with parental alienation immediately upon discovery can prevent long-term damage to the relationship with your child and help build the trusting, safe environment a child needs to grow.