Divorce can be very difficult for children. It pushes your family into a state of constant change. There will be divorce hearings, new housing situations, and the adjustment to a new way of parenting with your co-parent.
During divorce hearings, custody battles tend to be the most contentious part. One of the unfortunate truths of custody battles is that sometimes parents will try to turn their child against the other parent. This kind of manipulation is called parental alienation.
Parental alienation manifests in multiple ways, one parent could be seeking revenge on the other by taking their time with their children away, they try changing the children’s opinion or view of the other parent through bad talking, or the parent just wants to ensure they get the most time allotted with their children at whatever cost.
Ultimately, your children can feel torn between their parents, they could begin to recognize one parent as the “good cop” and one as the “bad cop,” or in the worst-case scenarios, your children could completely reset one parent due to the actions and conversations of the other.
Studies show that parental alienation is present in 11 to 15% of divorce cases, with 20-25% of parents continuing to engage in alienation behavior as long as 6 years after this divorce procedure.
No data suggest different gendered parents are more inclined to commit parental alienation, it’s evenly committed by mothers and fathers. The emotional damage and consequences from parental alienation can affect your child indefinitely.
Signs Of Parental Alienation
If you believe your co-parent is engaging in parental alienation, below are signs to look for in your children:
- Your child has suddenly or drastically lost interest in spending time with you
- Your child starts to recall events differently than you, this can suggest gaslighting as well
- Your child openly protests to spending time with you in front of your co-parent
- Your co-parent begins to claim your child doesn’t want to see you
- Your co-parent increasingly tries to control all interactions and behaviors with your child
- Your child begins to run away or hide in your presence
Treatment 0ptions of parental alienation
The treatment of parental alienation depends on the severity. Early intervention is the only way to guarantee little to no long-term emotional damage.
Parental alienation is known to cause different types of depression, including childhood obesity and anxiety disorders such as severe separation anxiety. If it is considered a mild case of parental alienation, the judge in your trial may order the parents to stop speaking about each other in front of their children.
Parenting counselors can be brought in for more severe cases. Parenting counselors offer a third-party perspective and can help eliminate problematic communication styles between newly developing co-parents.
Therapy is strongly recommended for children and parents in more severe cases. Severe cases of parental alienation may also force the judge to remove a child from the alienating parent’s custody for however long they see fit.
Even with therapy and support groups, it can be hard to reverse the damage done by severe cases of parental alienation. In these cases, it’s encouraged to go to a therapist and psychologist at least monthly.
Prevention tips of parental alienation
Psychologists and therapists alike have debated parental alienation for years. Their goal is to recognize parental alienation as a form of child abuse that needs to be taken as seriously as any other.
By recognizing parental alienation on a professional level, discussion about parental alienation can become more commonplace in courtrooms, amongst lawyers and judges, doctors, and pediatricians, giving children more allies to help them avoid the detrimental side effects of parental alienation.
One way you can prevent parental alienation yourself is by watching the way you speak about your co-parent around your children. While divorce is a high-stress time and emotions are running high, think about healthy ways to vent or discuss your feelings with friends, older family members, or even a therapist.
Having your therapist offers you a sounding board to help get you through this transition in your life. The division of a family is heartbreaking and challenging to navigate, a therapist can offer some relief and help you find ways to be healthy.
It also may be best for you, your co-parent, and your children to look into family therapy. Family therapy can create a safe space for conversations that can help prevent or eliminate parental alienation. Having a space for open and honest dialogue will allow you and your co-parent to at least try to keep your issues separate from your children’s lives.
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