Parental Alienation Syndrome
Parental Alienation Syndrome often begins when, during a divorce, one parent starts to make negative comments about the other parent in front of the children. As a divorced parent, you worry when the other parent makes nasty remarks about you in front of the kids. At some point, these derogatory remarks turn into what some legal and mental health experts call parental alienation syndrome.
What Is Parental Alienation Syndrome?
The American Psychiatric Association doesn’t recognize parental alienation syndrome as a mental disorder. Instead, the syndrome is defined as a dysfunction relationship between the parents and the children. Parental alienation syndrome occurs when a child is influenced by one parent to reject the other parent. As an example, one parent may tell the child that the other parent does not want to visit the child, love the child or does not want to support the child. In severe cases, negative influence can result in the child refusing to see or speak with the alienated parent.
Signs of Parental Alienation Syndrome
Some of the signs of Parental Alienation include:
- Telling the child details about the marital relationship or reasons for the divorce.
- Denying that the child has property and demanding that the child’s possessions be moved between homes.
- Denying the other parent access to school or medical records and schedules of activities.
- Blaming the other parent for money problems, splitting up the family, or having a new romantic partner.
- Refusing to be flexible with the visitation schedule, or over-scheduling the child with activities, so the other parent does not have time to visit.
- Asking the child to choose one parent over the other.
- Encouraging the child’s anger toward the other parent.
- Suggesting that a stepparent adopt the child and suggesting a name change.
- Using a child to spy or secretly gather information for the parent’s own use.
- Arranging temptations that interfere with the other parent’s visitation.
- Reacting with hurt or sadness to a child having a good time with the other parent.
- Asking the child about the other parent’s personal life.
- Making demands on the other parent that are contrary to court orders.
- Listening in on the child’s phone calls with the other parent.
Causes of Parental Alienation Syndrome
An alienating parent may have unresolved anger toward the other parent for perceived wrongs during the relationship. They may be unable to separate those issues from parenting issues.
An alienating parent may have unresolved childhood issues that they project onto the other parent.
Some alienating parents may have a personality disorder, such as narcissism or paranoia, which makes them unable to empathize with their child’s feelings or see the harm they’re causing to the child.
Some alienating parents may be so wrapped up in their children’s lives that they have no separate identity. They view the child’s relationship with the other parent as a threat.
Sometimes new spouses or grandparents push the alienating parent into inappropriate behavior for their own wrong reasons, and the alienating parent isn’t strong enough to resist.
Parent Alienation Syndrome Techniques
- Encouraging the child to pretend the other parent does not exist. Not allowing the child to mention the other parent’s name or refusing to acknowledge the child has fun with the other parent.
- Attacking the other parent’s character or lifestyle, such as job, living arrangements, activities, and friends.
- Putting the child in the middle by encouraging the child to spy on the other parent or deliver messages.
- Discussing the parents’ court battles with the child and encouraging the child to take sides.
- Making the child think there’s a reason to fear the other parent.
- Lying about how the other parent treats the child.
- Suggesting the other parent never cared for the child.
Successfully Child Alienation
- Badmouthing the other parent with foul language and inaccurate descriptions of the other parent.
- Offers only weak or frivolous reasons for their anger toward the targeted parent.
- Claims to have only hatred toward the targeted parent and can’t say anything good about them.
- Does not show any empathy or guilt about hurting the targeted parent’s feelings.
- Does not want anything to do with the targeted parent’s friends and family.
- May not want to see or talk to the alienated parent.
Dealing with Parental Alienation
Experts on alienation suggest the following ways to cope with the problem:
- Try to control your anger. Stay calm and in control of your own behavior.
- Keep a log of events as they happen, describing in detail what happened and when.
- Always call or pick up your child as scheduled, even when you know the child won’t be available. This can be painful, but you must be able to document to the court that you tried to see your child and were refused.
- During time spent with your child, focus on positive activities. Reminisce with your child about the good times you had together.
- Never discuss the court case with your child.
- Try not to argue with or be defensive with your child. Talk openly about what your child is actually seeing and feeling, as opposed to what the child has been told to be the truth.
- Work on improving your parenting skills by taking parenting courses and reading parenting books, so that you can be the best possible parent to your child.
- If possible, get counseling for your child, preferably with a therapist trained to recognize and treat parental alienation syndrome. If it’s not possible to get your child into counseling, go to counseling yourself to learn how to react to and counteract the problem.
- Don’t do anything to violate any court orders or otherwise be an undesirable parent. Pay your child support on time. Fulfill all your parenting obligations to the letter.
- Don’t react to the alienating behavior by engaging in alienating behavior toward your ex. This just makes things worse and further harms your child.
If you’re not getting court-ordered time with your child, go back to court and ask that the parent violating the court order be held in contempt of court. The sooner you contact the court about the violation of the court order, the more likely it is that the problem can be stopped before it becomes permanent and irreversible. If your custody order isn’t specific as to exact times and dates you’re to be with the child, ask the court to make the order very specific so that there’s no doubt about what is required.
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