Parental alienation is a form of manipulation in which one parent attempts to harm or destroy a child’s relationship with the other parent. It may also be referred to, in layman’s terms, as “parental brainwashing.” This process is often accomplished through lies, misrepresentation, and isolation. Parental alienation may start with something has simple as complaining about a spouse in front of a child and grow in severity as problems between the couple escalate before, during, and after the divorce. The purpose of this psychological alienation is to bring the child or children closer to the offending parent by driving them away from the targeted parent. Victims of parental alienation often become fearful and mistrustful of the alienated parent. Because children are easily influenced and suggestable, they struggle to see the “gray area” in this conflict. Instead, they are groomed to see one parent as “good” and the other as “bad.” Parental alienation was first brought to light by Dr. Richard Gardner in 1985. His theories on parental alienation syndrome developed as he worked with families dealing with child custody disputes. It is important to understand that Dr. Gardner defined the manifestation of parental alienation as being based on assertions that have no justification.
Tell-tale signs of parental alienationIt isn’t uncommon for parents to criticize their spouse in front of their children in a moment of frustration. Children may also overhear arguments or misinterpret events. So, how do you distinguish parental alienation from an everyday, ill-timed dispute? Keep an eye out for these clear and common signs of parental alienation:
- Discussing and sharing adult topics with the child especially those regarding the couple’s relationship and separation/divorce. This sign goes beyond “over-sharing.” It is a calculated attempt to influence the child’s perception of each parent.
- Denying or attempting to deny the other parent access to the child’s school and medical records.
- Refusing to share important information about the child’s performance in school, his or her schedules, and upcoming events.
- Creating code-words and signals with the child when discussing the other parent.
- Updating the child on the separation or divorce proceedings as if he or she were an adult.
- Openly blaming the other parent for any and all problems.
- Not allowing the child to bring personal items to the other parent’s residence.
- Instructing the child to pick a favorite parent or to choose just one parent.
- Asking the child to monitor the other parent and report back.
- Scheduling fun events and activities during the child’s time with the other parent so he or she will not want to leave.
- Withdrawing from and ignoring the child when he or she mentions the other parent in a positive way.
- Monitoring the child’s phone conversations with the other parent.
- Offering the child a choice to visit the other parent or not when the court order does not allow for a choice.