How does alienation occur?
The alienating parent may use a number of techniques, including but not limited to:
- Encouraging the child to pretend the other parent doesn’t exist. This can range from not allowing the child to mention the other parent’s name to refusing to acknowledge that the child has fun with the other parent.
- Leading the child to believe it’s his or her choice as to whether or not to spend time with the other parent.
- Attacking the other parent’s character or lifestyle, such as job, living arrangements, planned activities with the child, clothing, and friends (particularly new romantic partners).
- Putting the child in the middle by encouraging the child to spy on the other parent or take messages back and forth.
- Emphasizing the other parent’s flaws, such as an occasional burst of temper or not being prepared for the child’s activities. Normal parental lapses are blown out of proportion and the child is repeatedly reminded of them.
- Discussing court battles between the parents with the child and encouraging the child to take sides.
- Making the child think there’s reason to be afraid of the other parent.
- Lying about how the other parent treats the child. If this is done frequently enough, the child may begin to believe even preposterous suggestions.
- Rewriting history, such as suggesting to the child that the other parent never cared for him or her, even as an infant. The child has no memory of prior events and so can’t determine whether the alienating parent is telling the truth or not.
What does an alienated child look like?
A child who’s been successfully alienated:
- Will bad-mouth the other parent with foul language and inaccurate descriptions of the other parent.
- Offer only weak or frivolous reasons for his or her anger toward the targeted parent.
- Professes to have only hatred toward the targeted parent, and can’t say anything positive about them.
- Insists that he or she is solely responsible for the attitude toward the other parent, and that the alienating parent had nothing to do with his or her attitude.
- Supports and feels protective toward the alienating parent.
- Doesn’t show any empathy or guilt regarding hurting the targeted parent’s feelings.
- Doesn’t want anything to do with the targeted parent’s friends and family.
- May not want to see or talk to the alienated parent.
What should you do if you fear the other parent is trying to alienate your child?
If you are a parent who is a victim of the parental alienation syndrome, it may have struck without warning and you’re wracking your brain trying to figure out what happened. Many alienated parents find it difficult to control their anger and hurt over being treated so poorly by their child and ex-spouse.
Experts on alienation suggest the following as ways to cope with the problem:
- Try to control your anger and 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 at scheduled times, even when you know the child won’t be available. This is likely to 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, and reminisce with the child about previous good times you had together.
- Never discuss the court case with your child.
- Try not to argue with or be defensive with your child. Focus on talking 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, reading parenting books, etc., 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 and 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 the 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 the court knows 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 can be no doubt what is required.
- Try not to blame your child. Your child didn’t create the situation and desperately needs your love and affection.