In intact family situations and post separation and divorce shared care arrangements It is generally in the children’s best interest and indeed normal for children to desire and enjoy a relationship with both their parents.
However, in some instances this is not the case.
When a parent is deficient, there may be sufficient reasons for the child’s refusal to spend time or communicate with that parent. The children still love this parent and may even express this love. This is referred to as alignment.
When there are valid reasons for a child not to desire a relationship with a parent, such as family violence and abuse, this is referred to as estrangement.
However, in other cases the child may claim justifiable reasons for the rejection. Such claims may be harsh, unreasonable, even unfounded and unwarranted.
Their view of the parent will be denigrating, accusatory and not representative of their historical relationship with that parent. These children will often reflect the negative attitude of the favoured parent towards the other parent.
In some cases this can involve allegations of abuse and violence that ultimately prove to be unfounded.
The favoured parent is actively or passively involved in shaping the child’s attitudes toward the parent whom they have rejected. This is parental alienation.
Characteristics of the alienated child
- The alienated child will often display a polarized view of their parents. They will see the rejected parent as ‘all bad’ and the favoured parent as ‘all good’. They may reject not only the parent but also the entire extended family.
- They can display extreme hostility towards the rejected parent justifying their inappropriate behavior towards them.
- Other behavior may include: threats to run away if they are forced to have contact, allegations of neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse, threats of self harm or suicide.These characteristics can be categorised as follows:
Mild Parental Alienation—generally the child may refuse to communicate or spend time with the rejected parent but will enjoy time together with that parent if encouraged to do so. Interventions can include psycho-education, family therapy and co-parenting counselling.
Moderate Parental Alienation— At this level children are more resistant, show reflexive support for the favoured parent who encourages them.
Interventions may include, psycho-education, family therapy, co-parenting counselling, parenting programmes and programmes developed specifically for parental alienation.
Severe Parental Alienation—the child is adamant and persistent in refusing communication with the rejected parent and the favoured parent (alienating parent) is actively attempting to damage the child’s relationship with the other parent.
Unfounded allegations may be made against the rejected parent by the (favoured) alienating parent and by the child as their proxy. The alienating parent has no insight into the impact of their actions on the child and is often convinced that they are acting appropriately in order to protect the child.
This parent’s behaviour is emotionally and psychologically abusive to the child. A programme for reunification with the rejected parent, a fixed exclusion period for the alienating parent and reformulating the alienating parent’s relationship with the children should be implemented.
Interventions at this level require special attention to parental alienation, for which there is only one evidence-based program in Australia, the Family Bridges Programme (FBAC).
– by Stan Korosi
Read about Stan Korosi here: About Stan