Parental alienation, defined by the American Bar Association as a rejection of a parent by a child that is “unequivocal, strident, without guilt or ambivalence, absolute and without justification,” can negatively impact a child in a number of ways, both in the short and long-term. It can leave both psychological and emotional scars, and severely damage a child’s relationship with their parents.
There are various factors that can cause feelings of alienation from a child towards a parent, and said alienation is remarkably common in cases of divorce. Repairing a parent/child relationship can be a long and difficult process for all involved, and the unfortunate reality is that some psychological scars may never heal.
However, this isn’t to say that a parent/child relationship can’t be brought back from the brink of alienation, and there are plenty of useful steps that a parent can take (both in the midst and the aftermath of a parental alienation) to prevent alienation or even improve their relationship with their child after the fact.
Read on for a few of those steps below.
Encouraging open communication
Open communication is vitally important in any parent/child relationship, and that’s especially true with relationships strained by feelings of alienation. It’s the parent’s responsibility to ensure their children that they’ll be there for them unconditionally, open to discussing anything, and encouraging the child to do the same.
Creating a non-judgmental, safe space for children to freely express their opinions, emotions and experiences without fear of repercussions. This builds trust between targeted parents and their children and allows the latter to relieve the pressure of their feelings.
Reassuring the children of their parent’s love
While a parent loving their child may seem like a foregone conclusion under healthy circumstances, it’s still important for a child to be regularly reminded that their parent loves them unconditionally. Unconditional parental love is one of the foundations of the security of childhood.
While children may display aggressive, resentful, disrespectful, or even hateful behavior towards the targeted parent in the midst of alienation, said parent needs to look past that behavior and reassure their child that his or her love is unconditional.
Maintaining a routine
Much like with any challenge, a stable routine is essential for children dealing with parental alienation. Parents need to maintain consistent routines and schedules to provide a sense of normalcy and predictability in their lives.
While divorces (which are common causes for parental alienation) often uproot the logistics and daily schedules of all involved, the parent (or parents) must make sure that they’re instilling as much consistency for their children as possible. Whether it’s a consistent school schedule, designated times for the parent and child to spend time and bond with each other, or some other form of routine, the repeated consistency in their day-to-day life can help to limit distractions and feelings of insecurity on behalf of the child.
Seeking professional support
While many parents may seek to limit the amount of outside influence on a familial affair like parental alienation, they may also consider involving mental health professionals to assist in the recovery process. It may seem like a niche matter, but there are plenty of therapists or counselors experienced in working with families dealing with parental alienation, and they can provide valuable insights and coping strategies for both parents and children.
According to a paper from the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine, a study suggests that children who experience parental alienation can suffer serious effects that carry into adulthood, including trauma and anxiety. Handling the recovery process properly may help mitigate some of the consequences. Parents need to demonstrate patience, love and care as they help their children through it.
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