Most parents know that fighting and yelling in front of their child can be harmful and scary for the child. On the other hand, children need to see that sometimes parents can disagree—respectfully and appropriately—without any danger of the family coming apart.

But what about the other scenario, when the parents can’t find a way to agree? What about families that have to deal with divorce?

What is parental alienation?

Parental alienation occurs when one parent can’t keep their negative feelings about their ex in check. This parent manipulates or “brainwashes” their child into having negative feelings about the other parent. Sometimes this can happen unconsciously, but often, it’s a conscious decision.

In some cases, the child develops such negative feelings about the other parent that they don’t want to see or talk to the alienated parent. Permanent damage can occur, and the relationship between the child and the alienated parent can be extremely damaged.

When does it occur?

Typically, parental alienation results from a messy separation or divorce. If a parent begins badmouthing their ex (or even current spouse) in front of their child, the child (not knowing any better) might begin to believe those hateful comments.

The child might form an alliance with the negative parent and reject the other parent without any legitimate justification. The child might begin to agree with the alienating parent as a means of escaping the conflict.

What are the signs of parental alienation?

The Parental Alienation’s website warns that a parent exhibiting these behaviors is creating an alienation situation:

  • Giving the child a choice about visiting a parent when the child has no choice; the courts have settled when the child sees each parent.
  • Telling the child everything about marital issues and reasons for divorce. This type of information can be painful for the child.
  • Blaming the other parent for financial problems, breaking up the family, changes in lifestyle, having a girlfriend/boyfriend, etc.
  • Using the child to spy or gather information for the parent’s own use.

What should I do if my ex is alienating me?

There isn’t one right answer to this question. Here are a few ideas from Philip M. Stahl, Ph.D., that have worked for others:

  •  Obtain a court order that recognizes the value of on-going contact between the child and the alienated parent.
  • Use a case manager or parenting coordinator to monitor the cooperation and report to the court when one parent is out of compliance.
  • Engage the alienating parent in therapy—remind them that the alienation is harmful to the child.
  • If the ex will not agree to counseling together, then get it on your own anyway. Each family is different, so naturally every divorce is different, too. A good therapist can help with problem solving, help you develop strategies for dealing with your ex, and most of all, help minimize the damage done to children when parents split up.

If you would like to set up an appointment to see Reka, you can reach her at 402-881-8125. You can also email her at Make sure to follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

photo credit: frustration-1081 via photopin (license)