Skip to content

Avoiding Parental Alienation Syndrome

Did you know that there is a psychological term for the effects on children of pitting one parent against the other?

It is called “parental alienation syndrome.” During the divorce process, it is tragically common for one parent to use a child as a weapon against the other parent. This happens more often in contentious divorces, and even little actions can cause parental alienation syndrome. Children experiencing this condition may exhibit one or more of the following effects:

  • The child may become obsessed with hatred for one of the parents; we’ll call this parent the “target parent”
  • The child may claim that his or her feelings toward the target parent were his or her own, and that the other parent had nothing to do with the feelings of ill will
  • The child may lack remorse for treating the target parent poorly
  • Similarly, the child may take the non-target parent’s side during arguments
  • The child may make false accusations against the target parent
  • The child may extend his or her hatred to other members of the target parent’s family, including grandparents, aunts, uncles and even siblings

Parental alienation is detrimental to a child’s well-being. It can lead to hatred or fear of the target parent, which can lead to long-term emotional and mental health damage. As the child grows and his or her understanding of the world builds, the child may even turn the resentment around on the other parent. Confusion, feelings of rejection and abandonment and low self-esteem can follow the affected child for years or even decades.

It is so incredibly important to protect your children during a divorce. Part of that protection involves keeping them out of adult matters between you and your spouse. Never badmouth your ex in front of the kids, and never fight in front of them. If the divorce is so contentious that you find it difficult not to involve the children, consider separation and mediation.

It is normal for children to feel like they must choose a side during divorce. You should emphasize that choosing a side is not important and that both parents love them equally. Teaching your child critical thinking skills and the value of evaluating situations before making decisions can prevent the negative effects of parental alienation.

It is also valuable to teach children coping skills to prepare them for possible conflict. Not only will it help them through a difficult divorce, but it will help them grow up and learn to constructively deal with problems when they are away from you.

Divorce Matters ”“ Denver Family Law Attorneys