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Parental Alienation: Behavior of the Alienating Parent

By Jaskiran Bajwa

When it comes to alienating behaviors there are seventeen that one should watch out for. It must be noted that not all of them are required to successfully alienate a parent in any given situation:

Denigration or badmouthing of the targeted parent by the alienating parent telling the child:

  • That the targeted parent is unloving;
  • That the targeted parent is unsafe; or
  • That the targeted parent is unavailable as it can make the child feel unprioritized, therefore putting strain on that relationship.

Limiting contact with the targeted parent

By limiting the child’s contact with the targeted parent, the alienating parent has more uninterrupted time to alienate the other parent.

Interfering with the child’s communication with the targeted parent

Similar to limiting physical contact with the targeted parent, if the child goes extended periods of time without speaking to the targeted parent it can make the targeted parent seem unavailable to, or uninterested in, the child.

Interfering with symbolic communication from the targeted parent

If the child is not aware that the alienating parent is keeping the targeted parent from successfully giving the child cards or gifts on his/her birthday, or any other special occasion, then the child is more likely to eventually withdraw from the relationship with the targeted parent since he/she will feel as if that parent does not care about him/her anymore.

Withholding love and approval

This behavior by an alienating parent essentially conditions the child to view the alienated parent negatively. The alienating parent withholds love and approval if the child speaks positively of the parent (or any activity associated with that parent) until the child forms an eventual association between these actions by the child and the alienating parent’s lack of love and approval. Then, because of the child’s obvious desire to be loved and met with approval by a parent, the child will modify his/her behavior and attitude towards the targeted parent to be in line with the alienating parent.

Asking the child to spy on the targeted parent

Asking the child to spy on the targeted parent changes the relationship between the parties. Through spying, the child will feel a greater allegiance towards the alienating parent. It also suggests to the child that the targeted parent may not be trustworthy and that is why the alienating parent needs the child to spy on him/her. Creating suspicion of a parent in the mind of the child can have serious consequences when it comes to the child’s ability to subsequently trust the targeted parent.

Asking the child to keep secrets from the targeted parent

Asking the child to keep secrets from the targeted parent creates a barrier between the targeted parent and the child. It also can go hand in hand with the alienating behavior of withholding information from the targeted parent. In either instance, when the targeted parent is not given full information regarding the child, such as when doctor appointments or parent-teacher conferences are, he/she will necessarily be unable to participate. This will result in the child feeling as if the targeted parent is no longer interested in being part of the child’s life and further alienate that parent.

Confiding in the child

Not only does this behavior strengthen the bond between the child and the alienating parent, often the information that is confided portrays the targeted parent in a biased way. This only serves to create more distance between the child and the targeted parent. This behavior can also be a significant reason for a reversal of roles between the alienating parent and the child if the child feels as if the alienating parent needs to be protected or supported based on the biased information.

Referring to the targeted parent by name

Simply stated, this works to remove the targeted parent from the role of ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’ to just any other adult in the child’s eyes.

Referring to the alienating parent’s new spouse as ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’

This works to create a replacement parental bond with the alienating parent’s new partner. In time the child may truly feel as if this new partner is the second ‘good’ parent and the child may even go so far as to refer to the biological alienated parent as only an egg or sperm donor.

Allowing the child to choose

Once other alienating behaviors by the targeted parent seem to be successful the alienating parent may allow the child to choose if he/she wishes to have contact with the alienated parent, as well as in what capacity. This is an illusion of choice given that at this point the child has already begun to reject the targeted parent so the child will choose to have minimal contact, if any, with the targeted parent.

Forcing the child to reject the targeted parent

This can go hand in hand with the alienating parent withholding love and approval from the child if he/she fails to reject the targeted parent. However, it can also be more direct such as forcing the child to not acknowledge a parent at a joint event.

Telling the child that the targeted parent does not love him/her

A parent exhibiting this alienating behavior will likely tell the child that when the targeted parent separated from the alienating parent he/she also deliberately abandoned the child. This behavior can also be strengthened by the alienating parent not allowing the targeted parent to have access or communication with the child, and then pointing out this absence of love to the child as proof.

Telling the child that the targeted parent is dangerous

Being told the other parent is dangerous may create a potential rift in the relationship. Unfortunately, the only way for the child to determine that the targeted parent is not dangerous is by communicating and spending time with him/her which is unlikely given the alienation generally, and even less likely if the child is younger and therefore more easily frightened.

Withholding information from the targeted parent

Withholding information from the targeted parent makes him/her seem as if he/she is not interested in being part of the child’s life, when in actuality he/she simply is not aware of pertinent information. For instance, as mentioned, it could relate to the child’s medical information by which the child may notice the targeted parent is not present for support the way the alienating parent is. It can also be withholding academic information so that the targeted parent misses parent-teacher conferences or other school events important to the child.

Changing the child’s name

This is most often done by alienating mothers who will change the child’s last name to her maiden name if she had assumed the father’s last name and is now reverting back. This creates a stronger bond with the mother while at the same time distancing the child from the father.

Undermining the target parent’s authority or cultivating dependency on the alienating parent

Behavior that undermines the target parent’s authority can, for example, be going against the target parent’s wishes when it comes to something the child may not wish to do even if it is in his/her best interest, such as attending after school tutoring. An alienating parent may tell the child that he/she does not have to attend at all, thereby undermining the target parent’s authority, or that he/she does not have to attend during the alienating parent’s parenting time such that the child likes the favored parent more.

If you or someone you know is dealing with parental alienation, we can help. Our lawyers are trained in all aspects of parenting, custody, and access disputes. We have the resources and experience to help you through this process.

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