Parental Alienation Syndrome During Divorce

How to prevent parental alienation syndrome in children during or after divorce

Sometimes, marriages come to an end, and both spouses know it’s time to say goodbye and file for divorce. The time during the divorce process can go one of two ways: It can go smoothly with mutual respect, or it can create bitter feelings and hurt everyone involved.

Though a divorce is often never easy for either the spouses or the children, it doesn’t have to be a destructive process.  In fact, the process can be so destructive that the parents can unknowingly alienate the children.

What is parent alienation, and how does it happen?

During a divorce, especially one that involves child custody disputes, one or both parents can attempt to distance the child from the other parent. It can even be a subtle attempt by a parent, such as making indirect negative statements about the other parent in front of the child. A parent will often criticize the other parent, trying to instill anger and destroy the child’s bond with the other parent.

Sometimes, a parent will inform the child about the divorce process and the conflict between both parents. The mother may roll her eyes at something the father said, or the father may blame the mother for not trying to make the marriage work. All of these things create certain emotions in a child and almost force them to pick sides. When parents invoke these emotions of resentment toward the other parent, it can have lasting effects on a child. The child may develop separation anxiety or use the same techniques for dealing with relationships as an adult.

What are the signs of parental alienation?

Not all children show the same signs of parent alienation; however, many children do develop some type of resentment, hostility or desire to stay away from the other parent. A young child may cling to one parent and avoid the other parent. An older child may develop sleep disorders or have anger issues. Other signs of alienation syndrome include:

  • Having trouble forming close relationships
  • Feelings of vulnerability
  • Conflicts with authority
  • Withdrawing from social situations
  • Developing psychological dependency

The Difference Between Alienation and Preference

Though parental alienation syndrome does occur in some divorce cases, there’s a difference between a child feeling alienated from a parent and preferring to live with the other parent. Some children may feel closer to one parent because of similar interests or because that parent is the primary care provider in the home. Though children may have a parental preference, they still want to spend some time with the other parent.

Parental conflict takes its toll on the child, resulting in the child choosing one parent over the other just to end the conflict. When children are caught in the middle between conflicting parents, they may align with one to remove themselves from the situation, even if they have no problems with either parent. An alienated child aligns with a parent because of deliberate parental involvement.

Children sometimes suffer the most during the divorce, but parents can decrease their children’s anxiety and make the process easier for them. The children are losing a unified home and must deal with the stresses that come with having divorced parents. Understand the signs of parental alienation, and keep the children’s best interests in mind to avoid any further hurt that comes with the divorce.

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