Parental Alienation Part I: Is Your Ex Alienating the Kids From You?

Posted by on Apr 30, 2019 in Healthy Separation and/or Divorce Counseling | Comments Off on Parental Alienation Part I: Is Your Ex Alienating the Kids From You?

What the children of divorced parents want is to maintain a close relationship with their parents. They are certainly not interested in getting caught up in their parents’ relationship conflict. Unfortunately, some children find themselves ensnared in a situation where one parent attempts to alienate them from the other parent.  

Parental alienation can cause significant emotional damage to the child and their relationship with the targeted parent. This is damage that is difficult to reverse at best, and permanent at worst.

What is Parental Alienation?

We can consider the definition of parental alienation to be the successful efforts of one parent to influence the reputation, authority, and relationship of the other parent and their child.  If one parent is speaking so poorly of the other parent, the child begins to dislike and even reject that parent. Parental alienation is sometimes done unintentionally, but sadly, it is done deliberately in many cases.

When Does It Occur?

Often, this phenomenon happens most often in high-conflict separations and divorce. Yet, the parental alienation doesn’t have to occur right at the time of separation. In fact, alienating the kids can occur later on too. Usually, it happens when exes begin feuding over custody issues. In most cases, the alienating parent is the parent with primary custody while the targeted parent is the non-custodial parent.

The Results of Parental Alienation

So what is the result of parental alienation? Essentially, it deprives the child of love from one of their parents. It can be emotionally devastating to children and damages their self-esteem and trust in their parents. In severe cases, the children won’t talk to or speak to the alienated parent.  Therefore, once parental alienation occurs, according to research, is very difficult to reverse. It often leads to permanent relationship damage between the child and the alienated parent.

Common Strategies a Parent Practices When Alienating the Kids from an Ex

Amy Baker, a developmental psychologist, has identified seventeen strategies that parents will use when alienating the kids from the other. These include:

  1. Bad mouthing:  saying negative things about the other parent.
  2. Limiting contact:  interfering with the targeted parents scheduled time with the child.
  3. Interfering with communication: not allowing the child to call or write.
  4. Interfering with symbolic communication: not allowing the child to have photos, letters, or cards from the alienated parent.
  5. Withdrawing love: withholding love or affection when the child shows positive feelings or behaviors towards the targeted parent.
  6. Telling the child that the other parent is dangerous and will hurt them: sometimes the alienating parent will call child protective services (CPS) on the other parent.
  7. Forcing the child to choose between one parent or the other.
  8. Saying that the other parent doesn’t love them.
  9. Confiding in the child inappropriately: sharing things they shouldn’t know.
  10. Forcing the child to reject the other parent.
  11. Asking the child to spy on the alienated parent.
  12. Asking the child to keep secrets from the other parent.
  13. Referring to the other parent by their first name.
  14. Calling a step-parent “mom” or “dad” to replace the other parent.
  15. Withholding important information from the other parent about things such as medical care or school issues.
  16. Changing the child’s name to avoid association with the other parent.
  17. Creating dependency on the alienating parent:  the alienating parent insists that the child must have their permission to speak to the targeted parent.


As you can see, parental alienation is a set of behaviors aimed at manipulation on the part of one parent against the other. And the instrument of this behavior, sadly, winds up being the child themselves.

For my next post in this series, we will discuss the signs of parental alienation that are noticeable in the child.

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