The term “parental alienation syndrome” is one that’s commonly misunderstood, but an important one. This condition is often used as an argument in child custody fights to claim that a child is biased against one parent because of it.
Parental alienation syndrome is an arguably contentious name (more on that in a minute), but it’s one commonly used to describe a set of symptoms experienced by children, particularly those with separated parents.
Understanding parental alienation, how it works, and how it might manifest can help you identify and work to remedy it. No parent-child relationship can outlast deeply-rooted problems and distrust, so it’s important to take action sooner rather than later.
For more information on PAS and resources for managing its symptoms, be sure to check out the following article: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/parenting/what-is-parental-alienation-syndrome-and-the-effects-on-children/
What is Parental Alienation Syndrome?
Richard Gardner, a child psychologist, invented the term parental alienation syndrome (PAS) in 1985 to characterise the behaviour of a child who has been exposed to parental alienation (PA).
However, the following organizations do not accept PAS as a mental health condition:
- The American Psychological Association (APA)
- The American Medical Association (AMA)
- The World Health Organization (WHO)
When one parent discredits the other in front of a child or children they share, this is known as parental alienation.
For example, a mom could convince her child that their father doesn’t care about them or wants to visit them. Accusations can range from minor to quite severe.
Regardless of how good the child’s connection with the estranged parent was previously, this affects the child’s perspective of that parent. The parent who is criticizing is sometimes referred to as the alienator, while the parent who is being attacked is referred to as the alienated.
Parental Alienation: What Are the Different Types?
The intensity of parental alienation can be characterised as mild, moderate, or severe. The severity of the symptoms will determine treatment.
Mild: A child with mild parental alienation is hesitant to visit with the estranged parent yet likes spending time alone.
Moderate: A child with moderate parental alienation will vehemently oppose any contact with the estranged parent and harbor anger or hostility toward them throughout their time with them.
Severe: In difficult situations of parental alienation, the child may not only fiercely oppose any contact with the estranged parent but may even flee or hide to avoid having to see them.
Parental Alienation Symptoms
If you’re concerned that your child is experiencing parental alienation, keep an eye out for the following signs:
- Criticism that is unjust towards the alienated parent.
- An extreme bias towards the alienating parent.
- A lack of feelings of guilt in the child after a fight.
- The child says that all of the criticisms are based on their findings and independent reasoning.
- The child’s hate for the alienated parent extends to other family members linked to that parent.
Children who alienate one parent are more likely to:
- Have an upsurge in rage.
- Have an increased fear of abandonment.
- Adopt harmful habits (lying about others, having a distorted perspective of reality) that they pass on to others
- As a result of developing a “us vs them” mindset, may tend to get aggressive with others.
- Lack empathy and perceive things as very “black and white.”
The severity of parental alienation influences how it is treated.
- If your child’s case is mild, a court may be able to compel the alienating parent to cease speaking negatively about you in front of your child and to follow the parenting plan. You could also benefit from hiring a parenting coordinator to help you and your ex interact better and promote your children’s relationships.
- A parenting coordinator or counselor can work with you and your child’s other parent to enhance communication in favorable situations of parental alienation.
- It may be required to remove the child from the custody of the alienating parent in difficult situations or moderate cases with an uncooperative alienating parent. Parental alienation is a kind of abuse that, like other forms of abuse, requires removing the child from the circumstance.
Parent alienation is a severe problem with many detrimental effects on a family, most notably the child.
It can be very beneficial to recognize the early symptoms of such a condition to protect your relationship, both for your sake and your child’s. No matter what, remember that the relationship between your child and both of their parents should take precedence over personal conflict.
About the Author
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.