mother helping son

Parental Alienation Syndrome

Many years ago, Social Work Today published an article about Parental Alienation Syndrome. Of course, divorce and separation can cause a multitude of ill feelings toward a former partner; however, when those feelings spill over into a negative impact on the children, then there is a problem. The article states that there are two related problems for social workers working with children and divorced or separated parents:

  1. Parental alienation is the effort of one parent to turn a child against the other parent, and
  2. Parental alienation syndrome differs in that a parent hasn’t directly turned the child against the other parent. It is the child’s unwarranted rejection of a parent in response to the attitudes and actions of the other parent. Additionally, children are considered to suffer from parental alienation syndrome as they exhibit specific behavior.

The article had other interesting points to make about the consequences of parental alienation and the effects it has on children such as anxiety, depression, or relationship problems. School social workers have found that a child acting out or suffering academically often has no contact with a “hated” parent. When questioned further, the child denounces that parent due to the family doing things to purposefully exclude the other parent from the child’s school life. They do this in calculated ways like misrepresenting the alienated parent’s intentions to school staff, withholding information from them to make it look as if he or she has no interest in the child’s schooling. Alienation from the child’s school life also occurs when a parent is removed from the contact information from school records without a valid reason.

Richard Gardner, Ph.D., lists eight manifestations of parental alienation syndrome in children:1

  1. A Campaign of Denigration – Alienated children are consumed with hating the targeted parent.
  2. Weak, Frivolous, and Absurd Rationalizations – The intensity of the hatred does not match the rationale. For example, when alienated children are questioned about their reason they complain about things such as the parent’s eating habits, appearance, etcetera.
  3. Lack of Ambivalence About the Alienating Parent – The alienated parent is wholly flawed while the other parent is perceived as perfect.
  4. The “Independent Thinker” Phenomenon – Children insist that it is their own decision to not have anything to do with the parent even though the other parent may be influencing him or her.
  5. Absence of Guilt About the Treatment of the Targeted Parent – Alienated children may be rude, ungrateful, spiteful, and cold towards the targeted parent experiencing no guilt about their harsh treatment.
  6. Reflexive Support for the Alienating Parent in Parental Conflict – No matter what the cause for a disagreement or conflict, the alienated child will side with the alienating parent regardless of the truth.
  7. Presence of Borrowed Scenarios – Alienated children make accusations and assumptions about the targeted parent due to things they’ve heard the targeting parent say. They often use borrowed words or say things that cannot be supported with detail.
  8. Refection of Extended Family – This is when the hatred for the targeting parent makes its way to other family members resulting in the child not wanting to have anything to do with them.  

In addition to the children suffering the consequences of not having the parent involved, alienated parents are overcome with fear that the other parent is turning their children against them. These parents also live with anxiety, depression, helplessness, and victimization by not only the other parent but also the child.

In my profession, I, unfortunately, see the consequences of one parent’s intentions to poison a child’s relationship with the other parent. Experts agree that anytime a child can have a relationship with both parents, it is in the child’s best interest. If you are a victim of parental alienation, contact Kevin Hickey Law Partners for professional help. We have handled cases like yours, and we would be happy to help. The River Valley office number is 479.434.2414 and the Northwest Arkansas number is 479.802.6560.; The Parental Alienation Syndrome:  A Guide for Mental Health and Legal Professionals