Parent Alienation [Emotional child abuse]

Parent Alienation is a Unique Form of Emotional Abuse that Targets Children

If you are divorced with children, you need to understand Parent Alienation to protect your children and yourself!

parent alienation, child abuse, emotional abuse

Note: To make this article clearer to the reader, I have made a glossary of the terminology:

  • "Parent Alienation" is described as the psychological manipulation and brainwashing of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent.
  • "Militant parent" is the parent who is alienating the child.
  • "Target parent" is the parent who is being alienated.

Children have a natural right to develop an independent relationship with both parents, even when the two parents are living apart.

Parent Alienation prevents this natural bond between a child and a parent and is a form of emotional child abuse.

Parent Alienation attempts to cut-off the relationship between a child and one parent with devastating consequences and as an analogy it would be similar to the severing of the head from the body.

Parent Alienation is a type of emotional child abuse

Parent Alienation is a form of brainwashing whereby one parent (the militant parent) convinces his or her child that their other parent (the target parent) is 'bad' and that having a relationship with him or her is 'wrong.'

Parent Alienation can apply when the 'target parent' is a reasonably good caretaker and is maligned unfairly and irrationally.

Parent Alienation is emotional abuse since it is a systemic and deliberate effort by the militant parent to control and impose his or her agenda over and above the needs of the child and the natural and legal rights of the other parent.

Typically, it is the the custodial parent who becomes the militant parent. He or she uses his or her access and leverage with the child turning him or her into cannon-fodder in a prolonged battle with the 'target parent.' However, either parent is capable of being an abuser.

The ultimate goal of the militant parent is to use the child as a weapon to punish the 'target parent.'

The 'target parent'

The protection of a child is always the greatest concern. The targeting of an abusive and irresponsible parent and protecting a child from him or her would then be reasonable, and the accusation of parent alienation would be incorrect.

Limiting access, carefully monitoring visitations, and even seeking legal remedies to protect a child from a 'bad parent' is necessary and a responsible act.

Should a parent prove to be abusive and irresponsible, this does not mean that it is in the child's best interest to be informed of every one of his or her parent's failings and deficiencies. Common sense must prevail, and appropriate professionals should be consulted if there are any questions regarding what to say and do.

On the other hand, Parent Alienation is an attempt to malign the 'target parent,' regardless of whether he or she is a 'good parent' or a 'bad parent.' The parent that 'maligns' and 'alienates' (the militant parent), does so out of revenge, hatred, and anger.

The militant parent denigrates the target parent for self-serving reasons. Not for the benefit or wellbeing of his or her child. This is Parent Alienation. The militant parent's goal is to destroy beyond repair the relationship between his or her child and the other parent, the target parent.

Essentially the militant parent uses classic brainwashing techniques to impose a permanent rift between a son or daughter and his or her mother or father.

Signs of Parent Alienation

The child:

  • Rejects the target parent's gifts, care, and love.
  • Rejects the target parent's family, new partner, and friends.
  • Develops a pattern of avoiding visitations for vague and unspecified reasons.
  • Is always nervous and guarded when in the presence of the target parent.
  • Reports feeling unsafe when with the target parent. (Sometimes children are unsafe with a parent. However, this is a case where the child is safe, but reports being unsafe.)
  • Talks derogatorily about the targeted parent using words used by the militant parent.
  • After a visitation with the target parent, immediately goes to the militant parent to report how bad the 'target parent' was.

Intervening to prevent or stop Parent Alienation

Even if your child does not display ALL of these signs, displaying some of them or similar ones indicates something is amiss. You may be witnessing early stages of Parental Alienation. It is important to recognize the signs before things get so bad that the child will never trust you, the target parent, again. It is crucial to deal with the situation now in a proper manner to retain your child's trust and love.

If you are the parent being targeted, It can be helpful to seek the aid of a health professional who is trained to deal with cases of Parental Alienation. How you, the alienated parent, handle the situation is very important. Most importantly, be sure to keep in contact with your child despite attempts at alienation.

Ways Parent Alienation injures the child

  • Parent Alienation 'injures the child' denying him or her the benefits of having a relationship with the target parent. The child is hurt emotionally and materially when he or she is forcibly alienated from the parent being targeted.
  • The child is used as a weapon to punish the 'target parent.' This stressful and unhealthy position for the child to be in injures him or her.
  • Once parent alienation has taken hold, it is extremely difficult to eradicate and reverse. Parent Alienation in its essence is brainwashing, and sadly it is very effective. Once a child believes something at a deep emotional level, it is very hard to eradicate that belief. If a child has come to believe that his or her mother or father is bad, untrustworthy, dishonest, reckless, or dangerous, it is difficult to teach the child to believe otherwise.
  • Parent Alienation causes a loss of a valued, or potentially valued, relationship between a parent and a child that can never be made up. 

Legal remedies to stop or reverse Parent Alienation

If you believe your son or daughter is being 'alienated' from you, going to court can be helpful, but is an expensive option.

In some cases, judges will attempt to remedy the situation by changing the terms of custody. For example, if Mom has custody of the children, this is reversed, and custody is given to Dad.

Although there may be some merit in this solution, it can by no means undo all the damage that has been done. Changing the child's custodial parent and home is in itself traumatizing.

Courts require external evidence of a previously healthy and loving relationship with your child. You will need outside third parties to act as witnesses to the previous relationship you had with your child, as well as the current situation. Ideally, your legal team will also consist of social workers, psychologists, teachers, and other professionals to help explain to the court your situation.

If your case is presented properly and everything moves forward smoothly, it’s possible that the court will rule in favor of switching custody of the child to be primarily yours. However, it is very difficult to predict the outcome of court proceedings.

Taking the matter to court should never be the first option. You should first seek the advice of professionals, both in the legal and mental health sectors, to decide what direction to go in.

The best solution for Parent Alienation is to prevent it in the first place.

The following suggestions will reduce the likelihood and intensity of Parent Alienation. These Parent Alienation prevention guidelines should be part of every formal 'Parenting Plan' that is typically written and agreed upon during the separation and divorce proceedings.

Ten Guidelines to Reduce the Likelihood of Parent Alienation

1. The children should have their own phone so that dad and mom can contact them during mutually agreed upon times when they are in the home of the 'other parent.' Neither parent should be the 'gatekeeper' regulating the communication between their child and a reasonable parent. In the Parenting Plan, there should be specified times when a parent can call a child and check in on him or her.

2. If a pattern develops in which mom (or dad if he is the custodial parent) reports that "the children do not want to participate in visitations with dad," upon dad's discretion the children are to be taken to a mutually agreed Parenting Coordinator specialist to determine the precise reasons that visitations with dad have been interrupted. Every reasonable effort must be made to maintain the previously agreed upon times for visitation. Parent Alienation typically begins with one parent maintaining the children "do not want to visit or associate with the other parent." A disruption to the pattern of visitations must be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated as to the reason why.

3. Any communication regarding the children is not to be passed along via the children. Mom and dad can communicate in any agreed-upon form – phone, email, text specialized software, lawyers, etc. – regarding outstanding matters and parenting. Children are not to be used as messengers. The children are not to be informed regarding outstanding issues between their parents that will put them in a position to negatively judge the 'other parent.'

4. Parents are to permit children to bring home or into the visitation house clothing, gifts, and other personal items that have been acquired from the 'other parent.' Children are not to fear or feel guilty for having a favorite or useful item which is associated with one parent and then rejected by the other parent. For example, if one parent buys the child shoes, the child must be allowed to wear them in both homes.

5. The children are not to be asked for information regarding visitations with the 'other parent.' This includes details about future relationships either parent may develop with other individuals. If mom or dad develop a new and serious relationship with someone else, he or she should inform the 'other parent' so he or she can have general information about whom the children are meeting and associating with. However, details such as, "Did you see them kiss? Is she pretty? Did he spend the night?" should not be directed to the children. If there is a concern or question, it should be asked directly to the 'other parent' via any agreed upon means of communication.

6. Derogatory comments directed to the children about the 'other parent' are strictly forbidden. Such comments are a form of Parent Alienation and emotionally painful for the children to hear.

7. The following four messages and impressions are never to be conveyed to the children:

(1) I am the only parent that truly loves you.

(2) Feeling good about yourself can only come from me.

(3) Your other parent cannot be trusted. He or she will abandon you.

(4) If you want love and care from me, you cannot have a relationship with your 'other parent.'

These messages can be delivered by a parent directly or indirectly.

Direct: Mom says to son, "Your dad is a deadbeat and wouldn't spend a dime on you." Indirect: Daughter comes to dad for a visit, and he says: "Did your mom take you to the dentist to fix your toothache?"

Regardless of how children receive negative messages about the targeted parent — these negative comments are devastating and when sustained over long periods of time lead to lasting damage to the child's mental health. The targeted parent and the child are both victims of the militant parent.

8. Both parents are to encourage the children to love and respect their other parent. This should be the benchmark for both parents even if the 'other parent' is despised. Children should be free to develop a relationship with both parents and should one parent behave poorly and because of this be naturally rejected by the children, so be it. It is not for either parent to dictate how a child should feel about the 'other' parent. Child-parent relationships should rise and fall based on their own merit.

9. Custody exchanges and visitations are to be carefully regulated to comply with agreed upon times. Sloppy and inconsistent compliance will naturally lead to conflict that can then very easily slip into the abuse of Parent Alienation. The goal must be to reduce opportunities for alienating behaviors.

10. Both parents should agree to consult with and accept the advice of a chosen Parenting Coordinator should there be a question or dispute regarding parenting by the 'other parent.' The Parenting Plan should specify who the Parenting Coordinator is and should either parent call for an unscheduled meeting with this coordinator, within what period of time the 'other parent' should avail himself or herself to attend an emergency meeting to discuss the topics of concern. Prior to these meetings, both parents should agree that at times this Parenting Coordinator can act as an arbitrator deciding a particular course of action.

Concluding summary

Parent Alienation is emotional abuse of children.

Every effort by all individuals of influence in the lives of the children should be made aware how to prevent Parent Alienation. Prevention is the only reasonable approach.

Correcting current and past Parent Alienation will always have limited success and may even unintentionally further victimize.

Make sure Parent Alienation is not part of your child's life. If you suspect it is, then get outside professional help to seek a remedy before it is too late. Parent Alienation requires a strong and precise response. In most cases, informed and competent professionals should be part of the solution.

Marriage and family therapist and social worker Abe Kass has been deemed an 'expert witness' to provide an opinion on Parent Alienation by two Superior Courts of Justice for the Canadian Province of Ontario.