Impact of Parental Alienation Syndrome on Kids & How To Deal With It

Impact of Parental Alienation on Kids and How to Deal With It

When a married couple, who also happen to be parents, decides to part ways, the one who suffers the most is the child. Divorce, especially when it’s a messy separation, is hard, but when the couple has a child, it can make it even harder. Like any other parent, you would want to keep your child, but if your spouse happens to turn your child against you and you lose his/her custody, life can’t get any worse for you. When a former spouse tries to alienate the child from the other parent using various strategies, it is called parental alienation. Parental alienation can have adverse effects on the child. If you feel that your child is distancing from you, it could be because of parental alienation. Read on to know what it is and how it can be dealt with.

What Is Parental Alienation?

When the relationship between parents become toxic and they get divorced or go through a terrible separation, the child suffers the most. Sometimes, the child doesn’t receive enough love and care and feels that he is getting ignored. One parent may try to distance the child from the other parent using techniques such as brainwashing or alienating. This is parental alienation or a type of emotional distancing from the parent. The child ends up believing those things when told repeatedly and distances himself from the spouse. This impacts the behaviour of the child in the long run.

What Causes Parent Alienation?

Parental alienation begins primarily with harbouring contempt and negative feelings towards the non-custodial parent. When a parent has custody of the child, he/she makes the young ones feel like their spouse is at fault for all the wrongdoings. This makes the child distance himself from the non-custodial parent and avoids them completely despite the fact that they haven’t done anything wrong. As a result, the non-custodial parent goes through various psychological and emotional means by the caregiving parent.

When Does It Become a Syndrome?

Parental alienation syndrome isn’t officially a clinical or medical syndrome but that doesn’t mean its effects aren’t long-lasting. The person who is subjected to criticism is considered as the parent who is being alienated while the one who is brainwashing the other parent is the alienator. A child’s relationship with the other might have been good before separation but after the divorce, the parent who doesn’t have the custody of the child may not be able to spend enough time with the child. The other parent may brainwash the child and he may start believing the lies. At times, the damaged parent-child relationship can take a toll on the mental health of both the child and the parent who doesn’t have the custody of the child. However, parental alienation syndrome has not been officially considered as a syndrome in the medical field. It’s not something a child could be identified with, but yes, it may affect him emotionally and mentally.

Parental alienation

Signs That a Parent is Being Alienated

Parental alienation affects a parent as much as it affects a child. It can be emotionally disturbing for a parent to see their child (and the other parent) alienating them. Let’s understand what are the signs of a parent being alienated.

1. The child refuses to talk to the other parent.

The child may criticize the other parent for no reason and unfairly push them away from their lives. Such actions are fuelled by false reasoning, prejudices, and assumptions.

2. The alienator prevents the child from seeing the other parent.

The alienator parent may keep the child from seeing the other parent by making false claims such as the other parent is busy or uninterested in seeing the child. This may make the child angry and upset with the other parent and the child may start harbouring negative feelings about the other parent.

3. The child requests the other parent to not attend the parent-teacher meetings.

When a child requests a parent to not attend parent-teacher meetings or show no care whether the other parent is present or not, that’s a clear sign of a parent being alienated. In extreme cases, the alienated parent may not be listed as a contact person or guardian in the school’s registry.

4. The child disrespects the other parent.

The alienator parent can sometimes manipulate the child and say ill things about the other parent, as a result, the child may start disrespecting the other parent. The child may throw tantrums or have severe reactions even if the alienated parent talks in his favour.

5. The child mistreats favours.

Whenever the alienated parent tries to treat a child or does anything good for him, the child who is influenced or manipulated by the alienator parent will disregard those acts of kindness of the other parent. And the child may mistreat their favours – he may make the other parent feel that he/she owes them stuff. And when they end up granting their wishes, they act as if it’s never good enough or they should’ve done more. It’s a vicious and emotionally draining cycle.

6. The alienator parent discourages the child to take his things to the other parent’s house.

The child may hesitate to bring over his things when visiting the other parent. The alienating parent may encourage them to keep or store away their things at their house when visiting the other parent. The alienator parent may even ask the child to not bring anything from the alienating parent’s house.

7. The alienator parent discloses details about their relationships with the child.

One parent may divulge intimate details about their relationship with the alienated parent and disclose details he/she shouldn’t have. This may build feelings of anger, jealousy, and negativity within the young mind.

8. The alienator may try everything possible to keep the child from visiting the alienated parent.

A child may cancel his plans of visiting the other parent because the alienating parent has lured him with tempting activities. This may involve visiting restaurants or going to the amusement park, thus, making the other parent feel as if they’re not wanted or needed.

When asked about or confronted regarding parental alienation, the child may deny any signs of manipulation or influence from the pathological parent’s end. The alienated parent is told by the child that it’s their sole decision in rejecting them and how nobody is controlling him. This is also a telltale sign of parental alienation.

Symptoms of Parental Alienation Found in Children

Parental alienation can affect the emotional well-being of a child. If the parents argue in front of the child, the child may notice one parent discrediting the other in front of them. The alienator parent may brainwash the child slowly. He/she may make falsely accuse the other parent and these false accusations may lead the child to push away the other parent. Let’s understand the signs of parental alienation syndrome in children.

  • The child criticizes the alienated parent unfairly or for no valid reason.
  • The child harbours negative feelings for the other parent.
  • The child, when asked about his behaviour, may say that he is criticizing the parent based on his own judgement. He may deny any signs of manipulation.
  • The child receives support from the alienator parent, who may even promote such behaviour.
  • This child shows no signs of guilt about criticizing the other parent.
  • The child’s feelings of hatred or dislike are not limited to the alienated parent alone. It may extend to family members of that parent.
  • The child has no solid reason for not liking the alienated parent or to say why he dislikes them. His judgement is because of the false accusations made by the alienator parent.
  • The child may use words that adults use to criticize the other parent.

Effects of Parenting Alienation on Kids

As mentioned above, parental alienation can be especially hard on children because its effects may last long, sometimes beyond adulthood. Here are some of the effects of parental alienation in kids:

  • Disturbances in sleep cycles, insomnia, and being unable to relax.
  • Psychological trauma resulting from the divorce of the parents.
  • Failure to control temper and emotions and acting impulsively to situations.
  • Inability to cope with school work and poor academic performance.
  • Social isolation, moodiness, and unable to relate to peers.
  • Being less considerate of others’ feelings and showing a lack of empathy.
  • Mirroring the alienating parent’s personality and traits in late adulthood.
  • Psychological distress, anxiety, and a lack of emotional intelligence.
  • Constant fear, emotional pain, and a damaged childhood with bitter memories that last for life.

A child mentally drained because of his parents' fights

How to Deal With Parental Alienation

When you’re fighting with your spouse and trying to bond with your child who is refusing to listen to you, the first thing you will have to do is learn to be patient and calm. Sometimes the best solution is confronting the matter straight on and not ignoring it. The more you avoid talking about the subject, the worse the alienation becomes. Your children will be the witness of every action you take and it will remain forever in their memories as they grow up.

Here’s what you can do when you’re facing parental alienation:

1. Learn About The Legalities

Read up about parental alienation laws and consult a divorce lawyer or relationship advisor. These are experts who have dealt with similar cases. If you fear you’re going to lose custody of your child, you can consult them and see what course of action you can take.

2. Have Friends To Turn To

When you’re a victim of parental alienation and you see your child labelling you as ‘the bad person’, you will feel emotionally hurt. Sometimes, you may feel you might just give up and forget about trying to take custody. When you feel emotionally dispirited, it may take a toll on you more than you think. This is where having an emotional support system will help immensely. Have friends you can talk to and reliable family members you can consult. You may get a different perspective on the situation and they may shed light on solutions.

3. Learn Self-Care Strategies

Juggling a job, fighting with your spouse over custody, and not being able to connect with your child can leave any parent feeling like the world is about to end. Have self-care strategies in place and take care of your emotional and mental health. Write a journal and forgive yourself for any past mistakes you’ve committed. Don’t beat yourself up and remember that bad times don’t last forever. Eat clean and eat healthily, be sure to fit in some exercise, and meditate. Although these habits look simple, they make a massive difference to your emotional well-being.

4. Be Smart

Whenever you find yourself losing an argument or getting labelled as a victim – take a step back. Think about the strategies your co-parent used against you for parental alienation. Don’t react to those moments and use your feelings as a guideline on what to do. Don’t act on impulse when you’re angry. Let the feelings flow through you, let them pass, relax, and then decide with a clear head on what to do. If you’re too overwhelmed, get some distance and revisit the situation later when you are able to.

Is Parental Alienation Different For a Mother and Father?

In this time and age, parental alienation isn’t very different for moms and dads. Alienated fathers face similar situations like alienated mothers. It’s a 50/50 ratio these days but legally speaking, due to societal norms moms are more likely to be granted custody of the children.

Children are the bearers of the consequences of parental alienation. But parental alienation can affect both the parents and child emotionally. Even if the parents get divorced, they should think about their child’s future and try to behave amicably to each other so that their child’s behaviour is not affected.

Also Read:

Parenting Mistakes a Divorced Mother Should Avoid
Parental Divorce Affects The Way We Love
Tips To Raise a Happy Kid

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Ruchelle has a vast experience working with clients in hospitality, health and wellness, entertainment, real estate, and retail. She aims to utilise her learnings to deliver quality content which will in turn help drive sales and customer engagement.