Divorce is fraught with negative emotions, from depression to resentment. This range of intense feelings is normal for those going through or coming out of a divorce. However, sometimes the anger crosses the line into dangerous hatred that affects the children.
One parent may turn the children against the other parent in an act of revenge, known as parental alienation. Learn to recognize the signs of this happening to your children so you can take action.
What is parental alienation syndrome?
The term came from psychiatrist Richard Gardner to describe children who side with one parent in unwarranted hostility toward the other. The hatred can also be toward extended family members. The responsible party is usually an ex but can also be a relative of the ex-spouse.
Tactics to accomplish this goal involve more severe behaviors than just badmouthing or venting about the other parent. It also includes making false accusations, demonizing the other parent and coercing children to stop being affectionate. The ultimate goal is complete termination of that parent-child relationship. Manipulating children's emotions in this way is a form of abuse.
How to recognize parental alienation
It is natural for your children to experience their own range of negative feelings in response to the breakup of their family. They may even express anger toward you and/or your ex. However, warning signs of parental alienation are
- Repeating adult criticism
- Showing severe changes in personality and attachment
- Being fearful of or avoidant toward you
- Having delusions of persecution
If you notice any of these signs, you should have a qualified therapist evaluate your children to confirm if parental alienation is taking place.
How to respond
The long-term effects of such abusive treatment are real. Have your children attend counseling to help undo the damage and restore your relationship. Then speak with a family law attorney about modifying your custody or visitation order to ensure your children's safety.