Dealing with a separation or divorce is never easy on any parent. The emotional rollercoaster can lead us through a series of feelings including shock, sadness, loneliness and failure. But the ride eventually ends with a deep level of frustration, anger, and most importantly, resentment. The situation becomes even more sensitive when children become caught in the middle.
While a child is still trying to comprehend why their parents are no longer together, they are more likely to cling to whatever they are told. And with both parents still trying to manage their own emotions, it creates an opportunity to warp the perception of the child, and begin the process of Parental Alienation.
Parental Alienation is when a child develops a strong, negative feeling toward one parent because of the words or actions of the inflicting parent. Whether it is done intentionally or not, the inflicting parent fosters and encourages rejection of the target parent, with the intent to replace any love the child may have, with a feeling of hate.
There are many signs that suggest a child is suffering from parental alienation. Here are the 3 most commons signs to look out for:
The child openly criticizes the targeted parent: A child who has been emotionally influenced by someone will often be very vocal about the depreciation of the target parent. The child may even recount negative stories with conviction about the parent that they did not observe themselves. The child will also use language or wording that has been learned from the inflicting parent.
The child has no remorse for how the targeted parent is regarded: Children who are influenced into the emotional alienation of one parent will have a lack of guilt toward how that target parent is talked about or treated. They will not be empathetic toward their feelings and will always take the side of the inflicting parent.
The child resists spending time with the target parent: A child who regularly hears someone speaking negatively about the target parent will eventually want to avoid being around them. The instigator may be trying to encourage separation between the child and the target parent, or they might not know the effects of their words and behavior. Either way, the relationship between the targeted parent and child will be impacted.
This can be a heartbreaking situation for any parent that genuinely wants to have a loving relationship with their child. As parents, doing what is best for the child should mean encouraging a positive relationship with both parents, despite how we feel about the other parent.
Here are 3 ways to repair a relationship impacted by Parental Alienation:
Stop the negative talk: The very first thing that needs to happen when looking to relieve a family dealing with Parental Alienation is a cease in the negativity toward the target parent. Any feelings or comments that are not loving, supportive and constructive in nature need to be expressed away from the child who has been caught in the middle.
Balance the parenting: To begin repairing the damage caused by Parental Alienation, it’s important that the target parent gets to spend an increased amount of time with the child. The goal is to have shared, equal parenting and eventually eliminate the negativity and probable confusion surrounding the alienation.
Help the child reconnect with the target parent: A child who has been imprisoned to think negatively about the targeted parent needs the time and tools to rebuild their relationship. Also, the targeted parent needs to show the child that they are safe to be with, show that they care about their feelings and that they are committed to rebuilding and strengthening their relationship.
For targeted parents, it will help to know that there is support available!
If you or someone you know is suffering from a form of Parental Alienation, consult with a family counselor or a supervised access center in your area. Working with a social worker or coach through an access center can be beneficial as they can offer strategies and support to deal with the alienation tactics.
Also, you can consult with a family lawyer who is familiar with the various forms of Parental Alienation. In many cases, a process can be implemented to help improve the situation and bring you steps closer to a resolution.