Sometimes when parents are divorced or unmarried parents are no longer together, one parent decides that she does not want the child‘s other parent in his life. She may go to vast lengths to turn the child against his other parent by telling lies, denying visitation and convincing the child he doesn’t need his other parent. This is called parental alienation syndrome. The effects of this can be damaging to children and may be very difficult to reverse.
- Encourage the child to talk about how she feels about the alienated parent. Listen for words or terms that are not typically used by children, such as words beyond their vocabulary level and those that are likely to have originated with the alienating parent. Statements such as “he touched me inappropriately” or “she abused me” are examples. Young children, especially, do not commonly use words such as “inappropriately” or “abused” without being taught them specifically.
- Ask him why he feels that way about the alienated parent and when he began to feel that way. Use his answers to determine the cause of these feelings to determine whether he has been coached by the alienating parent. For instance, if the child claims that he is afraid his father will hurt him, ask him why. If he cannot give an answer, lead him gently by asking more direct questions, such as whether his father has ever been hit him before and if not, why he thinks it is possible now. If a child cannot answer these questions or seems confused, parental alienation is likely the cause.
- Give the child examples of how his alienated parent has been there for him and done nice things for him. Show him that the alienated parent really does love him and wants to be a part of his life by showing him pictures of him with the alienated parent and projects they did together. He may have been told that the alienated parent doesn’t care about him, love him or want to see him.
- Approach the alienating parent for help if you feel she will cooperate. Some parents do not realize what they are doing and if you approach the subject, they may be willing to change and help. Let her know what the consequences of parental alienation can be and ask her to help the child develop a good relationship with his other parent.
- Allow the child to spend time with his alienated parent without interference from the other parent. This includes no phone calls or emails during the visitation. If the child can spend time alone with the alienated parent, he may change his mind on his own.
- Seek out the help of a professional who specializes in parental alienation. You may need to search around a bit to find a therapist willing to take on a parental alienation case, but a therapist may be necessary in extreme cases when nothing else has worked. The therapist often sees the alienated parent and the child together to gauge their interactions and to help the child speak to the alienated parent. The therapist leads the discussion and helps the alienated parent show the child that he loves her and that they were once happy together. The therapist is also likely to hold individual sessions with each parent and with the child. However, unlike typical therapy, the therapist must be firm and forceful in his approach to effectively reverse the effects of parental alienation. The therapist will also use a combination of reasoning and emotional exploration to get through to the child.
- Petition the court to remove the child from the custody of the alienating parent if the case is severe and it seems as though the alienating parent is not going to change. In some cases, the alienating parent has so much control over the child that no amount of help can reverse the effects as long as that parent is in the picture. This step should only be taken as a last resort, and there is no guarantee that the court will agree to remove the alienating parent from the child’s life completely.
- Parental Alienation; How Can One Overturn the Programming of a Child Against a Parent; Ludwig Lowenstein Ph.D.; 2005
- Parental Alienation; Signs of Parental Alienation Syndrome and How to Counteract Its Effects; Ludwig Lowenstein Ph.D.; 2005
- Parental Alienation Syndrome; Judge Ruled Father Brainwashed Son Into Hating Mother; Kirk Makin; May 2008
Criteria for Differentiating Between PAS and Bona Fide Abuse-Neglect in Children
Inducing a PAS in a child is a form of abuse. After all, it can result in the attentuation and even permanent destruction of the psychological bond between loving parents and their children. It is a form of emotional abuse, however, that is different from physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse. Here the term abuse will generally refer to physical abuse and, to a lesser degree, sexual abuse. Included also in such abuse would be such behaviors as frequent menacing, threatening, hovering, and other forms of child intimidation.