Parent Alienation: Five Ways Parents Can Help Children of Divorce, Part 2

This is a Part 2 of guest blogger and divorce expert, Christina McGhee’s article on Parental Alienation, Children, and Divorce. Part 1 is here.

Parent Alienation, also known as PAS, is often viewed as a black or white issue. It has been my experience that alienation exists on a continuum and often falls in shades of gray. It can range from mild, which includes consistent derogatory remarks, subtly placing children in situations where they are asked to take sides or scheduling activities during the other parent’s scheduled time with a child, to very severe, which involves parents blatantly interfering with contact, rewarding a child’s rejection of the other parent, making abuse allegations or insisting that the other parent is bad, evil or someone to be feared. If PAS is suspected intervention needs to be guided by the assessment of a qualified experienced professional. (From Part 1 of Parental Alienation by Christina McGhee)

What Can Parents Do to Help Their Children?

1. Understand the Dynamics of the Problem: More often that not, parents do not understand the dynamics of PAS until it is too late or the situation has become severe. If you feel that the other parent is making attempts to sabotage your relationship raise your level of awareness and understanding about Parent Alienation. There are several excellent resources online regarding PAS, for more information click here or visit this resource page.

2. Maintain Contact with Children: Do what you can to maintain regular consistent contact with your child. The primary mode of operation for alienating parents is you are either for me or against me. Children learn early on that if they do not side with the alienator, they risk rejection. Having seen how the alienator has dealt with the target parent is a clear and ever present reminder of this. When a parent withdraws from a child’s life or does not maintain consistent contact children are defenseless against the alienation. Not only does it reinforce the alienator perspective, it also does not give children the opportunity to have an alternate perception of reality.

3. Don’t Take the Rejection or Rude Behaviors of Your Children Personally: While your children may be giving you every indication that they don’t want you involved, children still need you. Even if it is not acknowledged, knowing that you care and are available can be incredibly valuable to children dealing with the pressure inflicted by an alienating parent. It may seem like a small consolation but in most cases, children feel more secure in their relationship with the target parent because they do not put the child in a position where they are forced to choose.

4. Get Professional Support: Dealing with parent alienation is a marathon not a sprint. The journey to repair your relationship with your children may be long and often requires an enormous amount of patience and persistence. Seek out professional support to help you manage the stress and emotional drain that parents frequently experience when rejected by a child.

5. Utilize the Legal System When Necessary: When alienation is present, it almost always requires legal intervention. Many parents are reluctant to engage in litigation with the alienator either because they fear making things worse for children or because the family court or a legal professional has minimized the situation. While there are many family lawyers who are educated and knowledgeable about PAS, many still are not. Make sure the lawyer you are working with understands the dynamics of alienation and if necessary seek out an experienced professional to offer case consultation.

While PAS is not present in every situation, the best intervention is prevention. Regardless of the other parent’s actions, engage in positive co-parenting behaviors early on and do what you can to maintain a healthy relationship with your children, so that intervention, even in the early stages, will not be necessary.

Christina McGhee is a respected colleague and expert in divorce and children. She’s got some great tips for families who are going through divorce!

Photo credit: Jupiter Images


6 Responses

  1. […] the Tsunami, and the recent Earthquake in China; personal losses like the death of a loved one, a divorce, or new knowledge of illnesses in the family—can get us wondering about whether we’re spending […]

  2. Excellent advice in this article. It is so important to recognize PA early-on and move ahead in the directions suggested to counter the alienation as soon as possible. It’s the subtle gray areas that often get overlooked until the outcome is extremely damaging.

    Our goal through the Child-Centered Divorce Network is to alert parents about the devastating consequences of PA so they do not make that choice or fall into that type of behavior — all for the well-being of their children.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise on this subject.

    Rosalind Sedacca
    The Voice of Child-Centered Divorce

  3. Thank you for visiting, Rosalind. PA is certainly devastating for children and for everyone else involved in the family. Unfortunately, the effects are long lasting– many adults who were children of divorce that have been pawns in the PA war grow up to harbor resentment and confusion. Were they abandoned? Who was at fault? Why do they feel guilty? I’ve seen it up close in families I’m close to and know that PA has great impact.

    Glad to see that you are working hard to combat the problem and educate families.

    Best regards,
    Dr. Robyn

  4. My sister ,niece and nephews are going through a divorce and their father is displaying PA behavior. He resents my sister for asking for the divorce and has not taken any responsibility for their failed marriage. He has made it clear to his children that it was not his choice to break up the family and has been caught on tape telling his children that their mother will take them away from him if he makes any mistakes, like letting them stay home form school. He is very manipulative and makes repeat atttempts to make his children feel sorry for him. The result is that they begin to resent their mother for their Father’s pain. Their father is quite aware that he is trying to alienate his children and he uses the defence that he is just trying to protect his children since he thinks that my sister is trying to take him away from children and this is the way he thinks he can fight back. But in actuality, my sister has given him close to 40-50% custody. She understands that it is important that her children have a father but fels that their father is detrimental to their psyche if he continues to behave in this manner. She doesn’t know how to proceed and I don’t know how to help. Her husband comes from a divorce family is has many abandonment issues and is textbook passive aggressive which is ultimately why their marriage failed. He needs to deal with his emotional issues but he doesn’t seem to understand that. My sister has tried to protect her children by reassuring them that they arenot responsible for her or their fathers happiness and that adults can take care of themselves. But loyalty and love will make anyone, especially a child, feel that they need to help the love ones that suffer. My sister isolates her chidlren form her suffering and therefore the children seem to migrate towrds their Dad’s neediness. She does not know what she she do and is still contemplating how to settle the custody in the divorce. Unfortunately she still engages in negative interactions with her spouse and can not emotionally step away from his controlling behavior. He someone still can push her buttons and when he involves her children in the PA behavior, she allows her anger to take over and fights with him, knowing full well that her chidlren are hearing the conversation or will be the rbunt of his anger from the conversation. He is driving her crazy and making her nervous to the point that she feels that she is losing control over her children. he is accomplishing what he wants. I am at a loss at what to do to help. Is there anyone in the Baltimore area that she can be referred to that can give her good advice personally and in realtion to the divorce itself?
    A very loving Aunt who wants nothing more than a mentally healthy niece and nephews.

  5. I’m so sorry to hear about your niece’s divorce issues and the impact it’s having on her children. My suggestion is to contact my colleague, Christina McGhee and ask for a recommendation– she is also available for coaching. Her website is Let her know that I thought she’d be a great resource for you. She also has a great series called Lemons to Lemonade for children that I’d encourage you to check out.

    Warm regards,

    Dr. Robyn Silverman

  6. […] who’ve taken the approach of “turning their children against another parent” (called parental alienation) and wind up finding that their approach hurts everyone […]

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