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What's the best response to an alienating parent?

There are many elements in the dynamics of family relationships. The most foundational is love and that is what tends to influence the interactions. Most of the time, the result is a happy life.

Divorce doesn't have to suck the happiness out of Arkansas family relationships, but it does happen. The overriding objective of ensuring that the best interests of the children are being met typically results in arrangements that allow both parents to remain actively engaged with their children. If anger becomes the dominant emotion in divorce, however, one parent may behave in ways that destroy the other parent's relationships with the children.

Whether it's done intentionally or not, the effect can be the same. The term that may be used to describe the activity is parental alienation. Too often, the father winds up being the target. He is a victim, but so are the children, unless action is taken to protect parental rights.

There are differences of opinion about whether behaviors associated with parent alienation amount to a diagnosable syndrome. The behaviors are acknowledged, though, and that raises the question of what should be done to respond. On that, there is general agreement.

  • If you suspect parent-child alienation due to a vengeful ex, don't retaliate. Rather, seek to take the high road. If you return fire at your ex or get angry with your child, it may only fuel the alienation. Consider that your child is a victim, too.
  • To counter your child's negative view of you, strive to maintain all the contact you are allowed. Rather than responding to your child's criticism of you, acknowledge his or her feeling. Then look to change the mood. Consider arranging things so that your time together includes exposure to others with whom you have good relationships – perhaps especially other children.
  • If the ex is lying to your child about you, seek to debunk the claim quickly. The more it gets repeated, the more likely it is to be believed and become unshakeable. You might wish to invite the child to question whether the claims are consistent with his or her own experience of you. If your denials fall on deaf ears, perhaps someone else you trust can set the record straight.

What is without doubt is that there is too much at stake to allow parent alienation to go unanswered.

Source: Chinn Street Counseling Center, "Five Co-Parenting Interventions from "Divorce Poison: Protecting the Parent/Child Bond From a Vindictive Ex," Dr. Richard A. Warshak as reviewed by Shonnie Brown, MFT, accessed on July 19, 2016

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