Parental Alienation Syndrome is the deliberate attempt by one parent to distance his/her children from the other parent. The motivation is to destroy the parental bond between his/her children with the other parent. The alienation process develops over time and some of the symptoms of the syndrome include some or all of the following:
- A parent will speak badly of or criticize the other parent directly to the child or children. Negative statements about the other parent may be direct or indirect. For instance, the parent may say, “We can’t afford a new dress for the school dance because your father/mother decided to spend the money on vacation with their new friend.” A more direct comment would be, “your father/mother left because he/she didn’t care enough about you to try and make the marriage work.” Either statement is meant to cause the child to feel anger toward the other parent. It is an attempt to use the child to get back at the other parent for causing emotional pain.
- A parent will speak badly of the other parent within the hearing range of the child or children. There are parents who say they would never say anything negative to their child or children about the other parent. They don’t seem to have any problem saying negative things to other people though and if their child or children happen to be within hearing distance the better. These people hold themselves up as a “good person.” They want to instill anger in their children toward the other parent without looking bad. It’s easy to say they had no idea the child was listening so they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions. I like to say they are being very aggressive in a passive way.
- A parent will make the child privy to the details of the divorce and the ongoing conflict between the parents. They discuss financial problems brought on by the divorce. Make the child aware of legal issues that are ongoing and make it appear that if it weren’t for dad or mom their life would be easier.Not only can this cause the child to feel anger toward the other parent it can also cause the child to feel responsible for your situation and want to take on responsibilities that are not theirs.
- A parent will use body language to communicate their dislike of the other parent. The child may witness dad/mom roll their eyes or shake their head at something the other parent did or said. Such body language sends a negative message without a word being spoken. Children are smart and know that a roll of the eyes is a dismissive gesture. One clearly meant to send the message that the other parent is stupid or wrong in some way.
- Refusing to be around the other parent or to co – parent with them sends the child a negative message also. Children may be told that their dad/mom is always angry and the other parent doesn’t want to be around the anger. The other parent might not be angry at all but, such accusations can cause a child to have unfounded hard feelings toward the other parent.
- A parent may go as far as accusing the other parent of sexual, physical or emotional abuse. If you have, small children who are not yet able to communicate exactly what has happened such accusations can be very dangerous to the child/parent relationship. They may also have severe legal consequences. If a child is too small to talk and communicate what happened you should insist on a medical examination and an evaluation by a psychiatrist is you suspect abuse. If the child is old enough to speak for themselves and communicates to you that they have been abused then it is your responsibility to help them hold the other parent responsible.
Children who have to live with the unresovled conflict and anger of their parents suffer tremendously. Add to the normal stress of separation and divorce the feeling that the child should choose between the parents and you can cause damage that lasts a lifetime. A child is powerless when it comes to ending the conflict he/she is witnessing. They may feel that if they make a choice it will lessen the conflict they have to live with. One parent can cost their child the other parent and their only motivation is revenge, fear, anger or jealousy. It’s a terrible price for children to have to pay in an attempt to assuage a parent’s feelings.