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A Child’s Alienation from a Parent

Children are impressionable and will read a coParent’s behavior as signals for their behavior. This may cause a child to alienate the other coParent.
(3 minutes 19 seconds read)

Lori Denman-Underhill
Lori Denman-Underhill uses the power of the press to raise awareness about endless causes.

A Child’s Alienation from a Parent

What causes a child to become alienated from a coParent? Dr. Richard A. Warshak, psychologist and author, speaks about this topic.

“Nearly all childhood emotional and behavior problems are multi-layered, and parent-child conflicts are no exception,” Warshak explains on his site. “The favored parent’s negative influence is the most obvious ingredient in cases where children unreasonably reject a parent.”

Other reasons in which a child may alienate a parent and alienate them include

    • the situation of the family, past and present;
    • the personality of the child, affecting the way they feel; and
  • the way the child sees the parent react to the child’s rejection of them.

“In some families, children are more apt to align with a parent who has been historically less available or whose love the children view as more tenuous and contingent upon their undiluted loyalty (defined as sharing the parent’s negative view of the other parent),” says Warshak. In other words, one reason that some children choose to alienate a parent is because they are trying to establish or maintain a strong(-er) relationship with the parent they don’t already have a strong relationship. To show their love or loyalty to that parent, they will adopt that parent’s negative view of the other parent.

In other instances, children will align with the parent they have a stronger relationship with and alienate the other parent, and, as Warshak explains, this doesn’t happen without the preferred parent’s implicit or explicit endorsement: “With very few exceptions, when children relate well to one parent, but irrationally reject the other, the children identify with the favored parent’s negative view of the other parent,” Warshak said. “If it were not for the favored parent’s cooperation with, and often approval and encouragement of, the children’s rejection of the other parent, the parent-child conflict would not become and remain severely impaired.”

In both cases, it is the parents’ negative view of the other that leads children to alienate the other parent. Parents should understand the importance of keeping their emotions of anger under control in front of the child. The child sees one parent being upset at the other coParent and will behave accordingly.

“Some parents, though, are so blinded by rage and a wish to punish their former partner that they lose sight of their children’s need to love and be loved by both parents,” Warshak explained. “Some parents promote their children’s alienation because they believe that they are the superior parent and that the children can get by without the other parent. When for vindictive or narcissistic motives, alienating parents act in a manner that can erase the other parent from the children’s lives and leave their children with only one parent with whom they feel comfortable giving and receiving love.”

Children should not be placed into a fight aimed at the other parent. coParents should try their hardest to focus on the positive aspects of the other parent and teach those to their children. If not, the children who witness, learn, and take in the feelings of hate, experience parental alienation. Later, they may experience emotional, cognitive, and behavioral issues.

“They pull away from a formerly loved mother or father, and often an entire extended family, leaving the rejected relatives puzzled over what they might have said or done that caused a total rupture in relations,” Warshak said.

Overall, coParents need to look at the big picture. We do not want to teach our child to hate someone who loves them – the other coParent.

Dr. Richard A. Warshak, psychologist and author, offered insight to this piece.

CoParenter also recognizes that in real cases of abuse, child and or family violence, that what looks like alienating is actually protection. Often abusers will claim alienation in an effort to shift to victim blaming. We at coParenter do not condone or tolerate abuse of any kind.

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