Parental Alienation can be a real problem for parents involved in high conflict disputes regarding the parenting of their children following separation. It happens when the attachment between a parent and a child is broken through the systematic efforts of a high-conflict parent (or other guardian). Essentially the high conflict parent manipulates the children into breaking off their relationship with the other parent without the children really having a reason for the break to occur. The children are coached and taught to alienate the other parent.
Whilst not an all-inclusive list, evidence that parental alienation is occurring includes when a parent:
- regularly interferes with communication between the children and the other parent;
- makes false allegations of abuse against the other parent and involves the children in these allegation;
- regularly engineers situations so that the children are ‘unavailable’ to spend time with the other parent;
- creates and intense fear by the children of spending time with the other parent when no previous fear existed.
If this family law matter is happening to you, or somebody you know, we recently read some great tips to help you (or them) combat parental alienation and we wanted to share these tips with you.
1. Don’t become an alienator.
This is the most important tip. When you’re experiencing parental alienation, you will have a natural tendency to act defensively and always explain yourself to the children. Worse, you may want to counter the negative behavior and talk about what horrible things your ex has done with your children or in their presence. This is alienation, too! Don’t fall into the trap by following your natural desire to defend yourself against false accusations.’
2. “I love you” always.
When you do manage to gain contact with your children, regardless of the method, tell them that you love and care for them and that they are often in your thoughts and heart. Let them know they are special to you.
3. Positive language, always.
This is often overlooked but it is very important to avoid the use of negative language. It’s simple and it’s subtle; sometimes we’ll call it “think like the child.” Examples of using positive language include:
- Instead of, “I miss you…”, which can put the child in a position to feel guilt or upset use, “I look forward to the next time I see you!” this is more upbeat and positive.
- Instead of, “I wish I could have seen that…”, which conveys a lost opportunity or a regret use, “Wow, that’s great to hear and must have been very exciting!” as this conveys excitement, support, and positive reinforcement regarding whatever experience is the topic of conversation
4. Never stop contact efforts.
Even if you know that your cards, letters, gifts, emails, voice-mails, etc. are being intercepted or are otherwise never delivered – don’t give up trying. Keep a diary or journal of your efforts to contact your children as well as writing to your children as if they were going to read it – SOME DAY. This will prove helpful both for you and, hopefully your children if they have the opportunity to find out the truth at some time in the future.
5. Control yourself.
Manage your emotions. It is vital that you follow your court orders and agreements and avoid giving your high-conflict ex-partner any reason to vilify you to the children more than they already have.
6. Avoid blaming the children.
Try to remember that the children are also victims in this mess. Although difficult, it is often that when parental alienation is occurring, your children may spy on you, talk about every move you make, every purchase you do, report on who you talk to or spend time with, and if you don’t remember that this is a part of the alienator’s strategy, you could become frustrated at the children and blame them for fuelling the ex partner’s behavior. Don’t let this happen.
7. Be yourself.
Act as you always have and do, in the children’s best interests. This will ensure that as much as possible, the children will not see you as you are being portrayed by your ex-partner. Don’t overdo this though – there is no need to be “extra special” to counter your ex’s false allegations. Just be your usual loving, caring, nurturing self. Always remember that your actions will forever speak louder than your ex-partner’s words, particularly as your children mature.
8. Keep your plans, always.
If you have made special plans or arrangements with your children do not change your plans just because you fear that your ex-partner will not permit the children to spend time you as previously arranged or ordered. If you are late or fail to show one time, it may be twisted by your ex-partner into “proof” of your lack of caring for the children and give them the power to further alienate the children from you.
9. Build the relationship with memorable moments.
We do not mean becoming the Disney Land Parent however, a nice vacation, having a catch with the ball, sharing a professional sporting event, or for younger children reading a book together, movie watching etc can be special moments you can share with your children and help build a strong relationship and bond between you and your children.
10. Create the best team of professionals you can afford.
Legal professionals, mental health professionals, therapists, articles, scholarly studies with solid data are all invaluable tools to assist you with combating parental alienation. Be sure that whatever processional you use is knowledgeable and experienced with parental alienation and can advocate for the appropriate changes that will benefit your family. This advice may not come cheap but will be worth it.
Tips adapted from the article “10 Top Ways to Fight Parental Alienation” (Mr. Custody Coach).
Parental alienation of children, no matter how severe can deeply affect children and their emotional and mental health and often causes issues with them well into adulthood. It is vitally important to not get caught up in the high-conflict and vindictive behavior and to not lose sight of the fact that the children are the innocent bystanders in the high-conflict. They love both parents and it is in their best interests that this love for both parents is encouraged.