Parental alienation can be a devastating experience for a targeted parent, with emotional, psychological, and sometimes even physical consequences. It is a situation where one parent intentionally tries to turn the child against the other parent, often resulting in a breakdown of the parent-child relationship. The alienation effects can be long-lasting and can affect the child’s development and well-being, as well as the targeted parent’s own mental health. In such a situation, it is important for targeted parents to understand the strategies used by the alienating parent and to learn how to respond in a way that does not harm the child or compromise their own morals.
This paper “Beyond the High Road: Responding to 17 Parental Alienation Strategies without Compromising Your Morals or Harming Your Child” was co-authored by Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D. from The Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development and Research and Paul R. Fine, LCSW who is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in practice at a community mental health center in northern New Jersey. For any targeted parent who is struggling with parental alienation, this paper, which was published in May 2008, is a valuable resource that can provide hope and practical solutions.
Summary: Don’t take the “high road” to avoid alienation effects
The paper makes clear that the parents are split into two types: the targeted parents and the alienating parent. The paper discusses the challenges faced by targeted parents who are victims of parental alienation, and their inclination to take the “high road” in response to such behavior. The high road is characterized by not confronting the alienating parent in front of the child and avoiding any criticism of the alienating parent. Targeted parents believe that taking this approach is morally right and that responding negatively might cause further harm to the child. However, the high road often leads to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and may enable the alienation to continue. In some cases, targeted parents can become overwhelmed with frustration, leading to negative reactions towards the child or the alienating parent.
The paper aims to provide targeted parents with alternative responses to parental alienation that allow them to maintain their moral integrity and minimize harm to the child. The strategies discussed are based on the findings of the first author’s research on parental alienation, including interviews with adults who experienced parental alienation as children and surveys of parents who believed their child’s other parent was attempting to alienate them. The paper assumes that the targeted parent still has some access to their child and the alienating parent, and that the child is not yet a willing participant in the alienation process.
Respond to the alienation effects. Do not dodge.
Firstly, targeted parents should follow five steps to determine if they are experiencing parental alienation. They should educate themselves about parental alienation strategies and consider keeping a diary of the other parent’s actions and attitudes. Becoming familiar with the range of parental alienation strategies helps them understand their situation better. They should also learn about the 8 behavioral manifestations of parental alienation syndrome (PAS) to assess if their child is affected.
Targeted parents must seek a reality check from trusted sources, sharing their findings from the first two steps to ensure an accurate assessment of the situation. They should attempt to improve communication and relations with the alienating parent, extending the hand of friendship and discussing potential improvements. The alienating parent’s response can provide further insight into their intentions. Lastly, targeted parents should consult mental health and legal professionals before adopting a different approach to interactions with the other parent or their child.
It may be helpful for parents to participate in role-playing with a friend or therapist before utilizing the suggested responses in real-life situations. This allows them to experiment and become comfortable with the new approach, while also identifying any feelings, assumptions, or beliefs that may prevent them from using certain responses effectively. Developing comfort with the new strategies is crucial before implementing them to avoid worsening the situation.
Then, the authors discuss principles for responding to parental alienation. They suggest that targeted parents should be attuned to the developmental level and unique qualities of each child, tailoring their responses to fit their children’s needs. Parents should also be aware of the unique qualities of the alienating parent and their motives.
When responding to alienation effects, targeted parents should have empathy for their child, remembering that they are victims as well. It is crucial to be the best parent possible, providing a loving, caring, and responsive environment. As children grow and develop, parents should adjust their parenting skills accordingly.
Targeted parents should not take the bait when children return from the alienating parent with accusations or unresponsiveness. Instead, they should focus on preserving the relationship with their child, avoiding arguments, and maintaining a positive environment. Using the suggested responses in the paper, parents can work on creatively and empathically engaging with their child in difficult situations.
Protect the child and do not take the alienation effects personally
In situations where targeted parents face a child who appears to be lying or engaging in dishonest behavior, it is advised not to directly call the child a liar. Instead, consider other ways to express doubts or an alternative perspective. Direct confrontation and criticism may damage the parent-child relationship. It is essential to pick battles, as the alienating parent may exaggerate and criticize the targeted parent’s actions. Set reasonable limits and make sure punishments are fair and necessary.
Do not take the alienating behavior personally, as children are often influenced by the alienating parent. Maintain consistency in following the parenting plan even if the other parent does not. Get support from others facing similar situations, through online or face-to-face support groups. This can provide comfort, share ideas, and help navigate legal strategies.
In response to alienation effects, targeted parents should be proactive and consider the potential negative consequences of their responses. If the alienating parent badmouths the targeted parent in front of the child, the targeted parent can show empathy and offer to work out the issues privately. This demonstrates a willingness to improve the relationship for the child’s sake. If a child reports negative statements from the alienating parent, use the opportunity to neutrally engage with the child and clarify the situation.
The 17 alienating strategies the alienating parent usually uses
This paper discusses strategies for targeted parents dealing with parental alienation. Some of the examples and recommendations include:
Strategy 1: Badmouthing:
Empathize with your child and ask about their feelings when they hear negative comments. Address accusations about not loving them and encourage open communication.
Strategy 2: Limiting contact:
Inform your child about your efforts to maintain contact, document any infringements, and find creative ways to counteract the other parent’s attempts to limit contact.
Strategy 3: Interfering with communication:
Let your child know you’re trying to communicate, find creative ways to bypass the other parent’s interference, and maintain appropriate levels of communication.
Strategy 4: Interfering with symbolic communication:
Ensure your child has pictures of both parents in each home, take special photos together, and use technology to share photos.
Strategy 5: Withdrawal of love:
Discuss with your child their concerns about disappointing the other parent and help them recognize the discrepancies between their reactions to each parent’s approval.
Strategy 6: Telling child targeted parent doesn’t love them:
Repeatedly express your love and maintain open communication, while ensuring your parenting skills are strong and supportive.
Strategy 7: Forcing Child to Choose
Consult with their attorney and/or parenting coordinator to discuss appropriate steps when the alienating parent creates situations where the child participates in the rejection of the targeted parent, document every instance of last minute changes to the parenting plan, discuss the situation with the child calmly, and avoid letting the child be the one to deliver the information.
Strategy 8: Creating the Impression that the Targeted Parent is Dangerous
Correct the other parent right away if they create the impression that the targeted parent is dangerous, without appearing to be attacking or criticizing the other parent. The targeted parent should use a light touch, humor, and remind the child that they value being safe and protecting them by behaving appropriately.
Strategy 9: Confiding in Child
Address the issue of the other parent confiding in the child about the flaws and faults of the targeted parent by explaining to the child that he or she is still a child and should not be involved in adult conversations, and that the targeted parent is always available to discuss any concerns the child may have.
Strategy 10: Forcing Child to Reject Targeted Parent
Avoid letting the child ignore or be rude to them when the alienating parent is present, and to discuss with the child the importance of showing respect and appropriate behavior towards both parents.
Strategy 11: Asking Child to Spy on Targeted Parent
Be proactive about disclosing any relevant information to the other parent, and to ensure that the child does not become a pawn in the other parent’s efforts to obtain information.
Strategy 12: Asking Child to Keep Secrets from Targeted Parent
Discuss with the child why keeping secrets is not okay and brainstorm with them how to prevent the other parent from asking the child to keep secrets.
Strategy 13: Referring to Targeted Parent by First Name
Politely correct the other parent in front of the child and have a discussion with the child about the special bond between parent and child.
Strategy 14: Referring to a Stepparent as “Mom” or “Dad” and Encouraging Child to Do the Same
Politely mention the mix-up to the alienating parent in front of the child, and discuss with the child the importance of having a special name for the parent.
Strategy 15: Withholding Medical, Academic, and Other Important Information from Targeted Parent/ Keeping Targeted Parent’s Name off of Medical, Academic, and Other Relevant Documents
Be proactive in contacting relevant people for information and politely request updates, and discuss with an attorney or parenting coordinator if necessary.
Strategy 16: Changing Child’s Name to Remove Association with Targeted Parent
Have it written into legal documents that each parent must refer to the child by their legal name, politely remind the other parent in front of the child to use the correct name, and gently correct the child if they use the wrong name.
Strategy 17: Cultivating Dependency
Find and promote opportunities for the child to think for themselves, encourage questioning and decision-making, and be prepared to discuss changes in the child’s behavior or interests that may be influenced by the other parent’s attempt to maintain control.
The soft solution and on
Overall, the paper emphasizes the importance of empathy, open communication, and creative problem-solving to overcome parental alienation effects and maintain a strong relationship with your child.
The paper also emphasizes the importance of being polite, and finding opportunities to help the child think for themselves and develop self-sufficiency, critical thinking, autonomy, and independence. Finally, the paper invites targeted parents to contact the authors if they have suggestions for additional strategies or responses.