Parental alienation describes a process through which one parent tries to turn his/her children against the other parent. This typically occurs when one paints a negative picture of the other to their kids in an effort to gain favor. Alienation can also occur when one parent limits the other parent’s time with the children.
About 22 million parents—1 in 7 across intact, separated, or divorced families—are being alienated, willfully or unconsciously, from their children.
Children are significantly impacted by this practice of parental alienation. When they are told negative things about their mother or father, they tend to internalize these negative views, as they feel that they are a part of each parent. As a result, children can develop low self-esteem, and they may begin to blame themselves for the situation.
The parent who damages the connection with the other parent ultimately causes serious harm to their children.
Alienation can have long-term consequences for children. It can result in poor interpersonal relationships, reduced impulse control, and even manifest as aggression. Parents must recognize that no matter how they feel about their ex, they need to think about their children first. By refusing to say anything negative about the other, they can protect their children from potentially life-altering damage caused by parental alienation.
There are treatment options for children who suffer from parental alienation. An experienced therapist can work with them to instill the skills needed to better regulate their emotions, reduce anxiety levels, and manage potential conflict in an appropriate manner. In addition, a co-parenting counselor can work with the parents themselves in order to educate and teach the necessary approach required to improve communication, and eventually improve the co-parenting relationship.
Although it’s not easy, it is possible to provide guidance to those families affected by parental alienation. As courts become aware of this common issue, more judges are recommending co-parenting counseling. Hopefully, as recognition continues to increase, there will be less children impacted by parental alienation in the future.
Written by Jill Barnett-Kaufman
As a divorce and co-parenting expert, Jill has extensive experience working with individuals, couples, and families going through divorce. She is a licensed therapist, parent educator, divorce coach and divorce mediator.