What are the signs of parental alienation?

Parental alienation occurs when a child rejects a parent without good cause, typically due to influence from their other parent.

It is important to understand the signs of parental alienation, in order to prevent it from happening to you.

What is parental alienation?

Parental alienation mostly occurs during high conflict divorces, during which the child identifies strongly with one parent and is turned against the other. Parental alienation only occurs when the child’s reaction is not justified by mistreatment or abuse. Therefore, parental alienation is when a child rejects a parent without cause.

The child’s reasons for rejecting the parent are based on false or exaggerated claims. These claims are usually engineered by the other parent. The alienating parent pressures the child to have the same negative opinions of the other parent that they do.

Parental alienation behaviours

Whilst most divorced parents understand the importance of shielding their children from their negative opinions of their ex-partner, some parents lose sight of this.

In such cases, the alienating parent enlists their child as an ally in their battle against the other parent. This other parent therefore becomes the alienated parent.

An alienating parent uses a variety of strategy to teach the child that the other parent is a bad parent, who doesn’t love them and doesn’t deserve their affection.

The techniques use to alienate a child from a parent include:

  • Brainwashing: The alienating parent speaks negatively about the other parent to the child, on a regular basis. This is intended to make the child think that the other parent is a bad person who doesn’t deserve their love or affection.
  • Guilt-tripping: The alienating parent tries to make the child feel guilty for loving the other parent. They may say things like, “if you loved me, you wouldn’t love them,” or “I can’t believe you would choose them over me.”
  • Blaming: The alienating parent tries to make the child think that the other parent is responsible for all of the problems in their life. For example, they may say that the other parent is to blame for the divorce.
  • Isolation: The alienating parent tries to keep the child away from the other parent as much as possible. They may do this by making it difficult for the other parent to see the child, or by bad-mouthing the other parent when they are not around.
  • Manipulation: The alienating parent uses manipulation to make the child feel like they have to choose between the two parents. For example, they may say things like, “if you go and see your other parent, I’ll be so sad,” or “I’ll be so disappointed in you if you don’t spend time with me.”

How to spot the signs of parental alienation

In order to establish if a child is a victim of parental alienation, mental health and legal professionals have to consider specific factors. These factors include:

Child resists a relationship with the other parent

The main signifier of parental alienation is a child’s withdrawal from one parent. The level to which the child withdrawals can vary. The child may withdrawal emotionally but still spend time with the alienated parent, or they could completely refuse contact all together.

When a child resists a relationship with a parent, without good cause, it is likely that they are the victim of parental alienation. Children who have been victims of parental alienation typically give false or exaggerated reasons for why they don’t want to see the other parent.

A prior positive relationship with the parent has been lost

In majority of cases, before the parental alienation began, the child and parent had a good relationship. The alienation of the parent is of high contrast to the relationship previously had between the parent and child.

However, if the change in relationship is caused by a change in behaviour from the parent, this situation would not be considered parental alienation. In the case of parental alienation, the reasons given are usually based on bad-mouthing from the alienating parent and are not based on any real evidence.

The absence of abuse, neglect, or seriously deficient parenting

When a child’s rejection of a parent is justified by the treatment towards them or their other parent, it is not a case of parental alienation.

Parental alienation can only be diagnosed when there is no evidence of abuse, neglect or seriously deficient parenting. It is important to consider all three of these factors, as a child may be rejecting a parent due to one factor but not the others.

When considering parental alienation, it is essential to look at the whole picture and not just one element.

Behaviours by the alienating parent

In parental alienation, the alienating parent engages in a pattern of behaviour that will clearly, significantly damage the child’s opinion of the other parent. It is not a one off isolated incident of one parent bad-mouthing the other.

The alienating parent usually:

  • Regularly speaks badly about the other parent in front of the child
  • Forbids the child from seeing or talking to the other parent
  • Tries to turn the child against the other parent

This type of behaviour can have a profound effect on a child and their relationship with both parents. The alienating parent is essentially trying to brainwash the child into thinking that the other parent is bad.

Insulting attitudes and behaviours towards parent

Psychologists have found that children involved in parental alienation share similar attitudes and behaviours to one another. These attitudes and behaviours are typically insulting and derogatory towards the parent they have been alienated from.

Some common attitudes and behaviours displayed by children involved in parental alienation are:

  • They believe the lies their parent has told them about the other parent
  • They have a strong hatred or dislike for the other parent
  • They show no remorse for their hurtful words or actions towards the other parent

Showing no remorse or guilt for their behaviour is particularly relevant for cases of parental alienation. Within cases of abuse, children are not likely to defy or disrespect their parent due to fear.

Preventing parental alienation through early intervention

By being able to identify the signs of parental alienation, it is more likely that cases of parental alienation can be prevented before they go too far. Parents that are engaging in alienating behaviour need to understand how they are harming their children and develop healthier ways to cope with their feelings towards their ex-partner.

Where to get more information and help

To find more information on parental alienation and where to get help, visit Child and Family Blog.