7 Signs Of Parental Alienation And Ways To Overcome It

check_icon Research-backed

Disputes between parents can negatively impact the child. Parental alienation is when your partner or ex starts to brainwash your child against you. This behavior can affect the children’s mental health and cause them to behave unusually.

Abnormal behaviors such as being rude or scared, the sudden eruption of anger, and withdrawal, all directed towards one parent, can result from the influence of the other one on the child.

The continuous battle that is going on between the parents, such as separation or divorce, may cause alienation and neglectful or uninvolved parenting. Ultimately the child ends up with a scarred mind and feelings of estrangement and emotional neglect.

This post will tell you about parental alienation, its signs, ways to overcome it and maintain a healthy relationship with children.

In This Article

What Is Parental Alienation?

When a parent tries to damage the relationship of the child or children with the other parent, it is called parental alienation. It is usually done by taking some extreme steps such as brainwashing, manipulating, or lying to the child about the other parent. The child could have severe behavioral and psychological issues, and their relationship with the other parent may be significantly damaged (1).

The parent who is alienating the child is called an alienator, and the other is called alienated.

We list a few parental alienation examples here to help you understand it more clearly. Note that every case is different, and these are just examples of certain situations.

  • Your mother doesn’t love you like she used to before. She has more friends now, and she likes to spend most of her time with them and not with you.” — Lying to the child.
  • Your father doesn’t earn much. I’m afraid he won’t be able to take good care of you.” — Criticizing the partner and showing them in a bad light.
  • I am the one who manages all your requirements. Your mother can do nothing for you. Still, you take her side and not mine?” — Showing anger or manipulation.

Dealing with such harmful behavior by a parent is essential for the mental wellbeing of the child.

Signs Of Parental Alienation

Children who are being alienated from you behave differently. Some of the signs are listed here (2): Collaborate the signs of alienation with objective information to confirm whether it is alienation or not.

  • The child may simply refuse to talk to or visit you, assuming everything said by the alienator parent is right. Or they may give a not-so-convincing reason for not meeting you. It could be termed as frivolous rationalization.
  • The child may be rude and show hatred towards you and your extended family or friends.
Child may be rude and show hatred

Image: Shutterstock

  • The child may have no feelings of guilt for their wrong behavior.
  • The child may slander or talk wrongly about you in front of others, say, teachers or friends. It could be regarded as spreading animosity.
  • The child may perceive everything as ‘good’ or ‘right’ coming from the alienator parent, and ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’ about everything related to you. It could mean a lack of ambivalence from the child.
  • The child may not accept anything positive coming from you. And they may always be taking the side of the alienator parent. It could be considered reflexive support.
A child does not accept anything positive

Image: IStock

  • The child may not be able to gauge what is right and wrong but believes whatever the alienator parent says.
protip_icon Point to consider
Some other signs of parental alienation could be when your child parrots the other parent’s negative opinions of you or your child refuses to spend time or attend events with you.

Liam Ireland, a father, writer, and editor, talks about how parental alienation affected his relationship with his children. After a lot of trouble seeing his children. He conveys, “During the normal working week my ex herself was unable to get home in time to collect the children from school. I offered to do that to help her but she steadfastly refused… Instead, she sent my children to an after-school club run by a woman called Maria. So I went to that club and asked Maria if I could go inside and spend a little time with my children, and she gladly accepted my request. A week later I went round to the club and was met by Maria refusing to open the door to let me in. She called out to me in a loud voice that my ex’s instructions to her were that under no circumstance was I to be allowed any contact with my children.” After a few years, Ireland moved to Spain with a new partner. He says, “Over the following years the contact with my children turned out to be sporadic to say the least. Then, one such visit to my home in Spain, one of my daughters spoke very disrespectfully to me calling me a perv in comparison to her saintly mother…That was thirteen years ago and we have not spoken since. I have tried to build bridges, but they do not want to know and even refuse to give me their addresses to send birthday cards to (i).”

Your child is getting affected, and your relationship with them is being damaged. You cannot be silent about it. But how do you deal with such a situation?

Tips On Fighting Parental Alienation

Your spouse or ex is trying to keep you away from your child. You know they are wrong, and parental alienation needs to stop. Check out some tips to help yourself to fight it.

  • Collect proof: When you suspect your ex or spouse is trying to alienate you from your child, you need to record all the evidence. If they texted you or called you to say, ‘stay away from my child,’ or ‘you are not fit to take care of my child,’ or something similar, then save the text or record all calls with them. Keep gathering such evidence that may help you prove parental alienation in the court. However, communicate and try to resolve the problem first before proceeding with this action. Also, in some geographical regions it is illegal to record without consent.
  • Figure out and record patterns: You may begin to understand your child is being alienated from you when they start reacting unusually. This is when you should make a note of it. For instance, make a note when the child said, ‘you are bad,’ or refused to meet you, along with the date and context. Recording these patterns will be easy for you to analyze your child’s changing behavior, and you may be able to help them.
  • Talk to your children: It may be challenging to find an opportunity to even talk to your child. But when you do, sit down with them and help them understand what is happening, and how much you love them. Remind them of those good times when you had great fun together. Explain to them that those days can come back, and they will be taken care of and be loved without any conditions. It is paramount to talk with the parent alienator, as well, about the problem on hand.
Have open communication with your child

Image: IStock

  • Tread carefully and make no mistakes: Your ex or your spouse may have put a lot of blame on you. Instead of reacting to it, you should stay strong and prove them wrong. See that your positives are coming out. Even if you are angry, try to calm down because even a single wrong act may tilt the scales further to their side.
  • Hire a legal representative: If the need arises, contact a legal representative too to protect your child. Give them all the proofs you collected and explain the situation clearly. It may not be easy to make the judiciary understand what you are going through but approaching them with the help of a lawyer and sufficient evidence could help.
  • Do not give up: Fighting and proving that you are right, and your ex or spouse is wrong could be bothersome and exhaustive too. But you should carry on the fight for your children, who are victims of parental alienation and being used by your ex for their benefit. Your kids might be telling on you or bad-mouthing you but understand that they may have been brainwashed. So, never give up fighting for them.
  • Reunification therapy: When a child is wrongfully alienated from one of the parents, parental reunification therapy helps in reuniting them. One can get into the therapy voluntarily or by a court order.

Parental alienation may have a serious impact on the child or children. Though the child may not be able to perceive it, the effects may continue for many long years. The cycle may repeat in next generation by the affected child.

protip_icon Do remember
It is also vital to prioritize your own well-being when dealing with parental alienation. This may include finding ways to manage stress, seeking support from friends and family, and taking time for self-care.

Effects Of Parental Alienation

Children require love and affection from both parents. When one parent alienates the child from another parent, the child is disturbed and may have psychological problems (3) (4).

  1. Anxiety and depression: It could be confusing for a child to assess what is right and what is wrong. The confusion may leave the child lonely. Spending time isolated from others and thinking over and over about the parents and their relationship may cause anxiety issues and sometimes severe depression.
  1. Anger issues: When a parent manipulates the child or instills negativity and hatred for the other parent in their mind, it has an adverse impact and makes the child upset or even angry with the parent. Eventually, they may develop anger issues and experience frustration, distress, and aggression. These reactions can occur even in minor conflict situations or when faced with petty criticism. Some children may turn rude and even disrespectful as they grow up. This could go on for years.
  1. Fear: Parental alienation can cause a child to feel as if they have a rejecting parent, leading to a sense of parental rejection. This feeling can instill fear in the child, which may intensify as they grow older. They may fear about the future, about how the parent would react, and assume problems that don’t exist.
Fearful child

Image: Shutterstock

  1. Sleep and eating disorder: When a child is worried, it may affect their sleeping and eating patterns. Some may be troubled with nightmares, some may don’t eat well, or some may develop disorders such as insomnia, or obesity.
  1. Lack of focus: When a child is disturbed, they may have trouble focusing. Some of them could even lose interest in studies, thereby resulting in bad grades.
  1. Low self-esteem: Not getting proper care and the deserved attention from the parents may make the child doubt themselves. They may be afraid of trying new things in life. And may end up having low self-esteem or low confidence.
  1. Self-hatred: Disturbed children may blame themselves for what is happening around them and feel guilty. They are often hard on themselves and feel inadequate. They have a bleak outlook on life and often learn to focus only on the negatives. They perceive positivity as immaturity and think of themselves as “not good enough” by any standard. They also find it difficult to move on from their mistakes. They constantly seek validation from others and take criticisms to heart.
  1. Others: Some other effects of parental alienation on children could be self-destructing behavior, panic attacks, poor relationships, social identity issues, diminished activity, memory loss, and regressive behavior.
protip_icon Be watchful
Parental alienation may also have legal and financial ramifications, such as changes in custody arrangements or seeking legal remedies to fix the issue.

You can use mediation to sort the issue with your spouse or go legally to protect your child. You may have to go ahead with litigation and then trial. Make sure you know the law for parental alienation and ensure that you have the necessary evidence too.

Parental Alienation Checklist

Some courts may use a checklist to identify the behavior of a child and to relate it with parental alienation. The standard checklist includes:

  • Bad-mouthing about the other parent
  • Lying to the child that the other parent no more loves them
  • Expressing anger or withdrawing love to pull the child away from the other parent
  • Making the child dependent and creating a distance between them and the alienated parent
  • Limiting contact of the child with the alienated parent
  • Pressurizing or forcing the child to pick one of the two parents
Pressurizing or forcing the child to pick one of the two parents

Image: IStock

  • Brainwashing the child that the other parent could be dangerous
  • Not allowing the other parent to visit the child
  • Making the child check on or spy on the parent
  • Changing the child’s name so that there’s no association with the other parent
  • Hiding the information of a child with the alienated parent
  • Making the child call or meet a step-parent
  • Telling their child not to call the other parent as ‘mom’ or ‘dad,’ and instead, asking them to call by their name
  • Creating fear in the child about the court, trial, and litigation procedures
  • Interfering between the child and parent’s communication
  • Limiting the pictures of the child with the other parent

This checklist could be used by the attorneys and the judge in understanding the situation and also the proof as presented by the alienated parent.

Parental Alienation vs Parental Alienation Syndrome

Many people do get confused between parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome or PAS. But these two are different from each other. Dr. Richard Gardner, a psychiatrist, coined the word parental alienation syndrome in 1985, which describes the effect or outcome of alienation on the child (1).

Parental alienation is not considered a mental illness by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). But, the ‘child affected by parental relationship distress’ or CAPRD is included in the DSM. CAPRD is a relationship problem between the child and the parent. PAS is psychological; psychologists and other mental health professionals do diagnose on mental, emotional, or psychological issues or disorders.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is narcissistic parental alienation?

Narcissistic parental alienation is when parents try to manipulate their children psychologically and convince them to show fear, anger, and disrespect towards the other parent through intimidation, guilt-tripping, hostility, psychological abuse, harassment, and threats.

2. Is parental alienation coercive control?

Yes. Parental alienation can be considered a form of coercive control as one parent is trying to control the other parent’s actions.

3. What should you not say to an alienated child?

Things that you should not say to an alienated child include, “You are telling a lie,” “That is not right,” “How could you talk to me in that tone?,” “Who said this to you?,” and “You know it is not right”.

Parental alienation can do serious damage to the child’s mental and physical health. A child who is brainwashed against one parent by the other may not only become distant from the former but also begin to resent them and disrespect them. So if your child is showing such signs of alienation or isolation from you, take immediate action and stop it as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Remember, your relationship with your partner should not define and stand in the way of your relationship with your child. Rather than blaming your child, try gathering evidence to determine the root cause and seek legal help if necessary without jeopardizing your relationship with your child and affecting their emotional state.

Key Pointers

  • Parental alienation is brainwashing or manipulating children to damage their relationship with the parent.
  • If you want to prove parental alienation from your ex or spouse, you must collect recorded evidence such as phone calls.
  • You may try to talk to your kids and make them understand how much you love them.

This video explores the profound impact of parental alienation on targeted parents and the research behind it. Learn how to recognize and cope with this difficult situation.

Personal Experience: Source


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

1. J. Harman; ‘Parental Alienation’: What it means and why it matters; Colorado State University (2016)
2. A. M. Jaffe, M. J. Thakkar, and P. Piron; Denial of ambivalence as a hallmark of parental alienation; Clinical Psychology & Neuropsychology (2017)
3. Stoner-Moskowitz, J; The effect of parental alienation syndrome and interparental conflict on the self-concept of children of divorce; American Psychological Association (1998)
4. Parental Alienation Causes Short And Long-Term Damage To Children; National Parents Organization

Was this article helpful?
The following two tabs change content below.