While it might be natural for a child to prefer one parent over the other, if this preference is falsely manipulated or encouraged after divorce, it can be said that parental alienation exists. When this alienation is engineered by one parent over the other, the child can suffer dramatic emotional consequences. It is crucial that parental alienation is identified and prevented following a divorce.
Even though it has existed for far longer, the notion of parental alienation was given a name in 1985 by Dr. Richard Gardner. There are three levels of parental alienation, separated by severity:
- Mild alienation in which the child is resistant to visiting the parent, but later enjoys spending time with the parent when they are together.
- Moderate alienation is marked by a child who both resists the parental contact and maintains the resentment during the visit.
- Severe alienation occurs when the child not only strongly resists contact with the alienated parent but might also run away or hide to prevent the contact altogether.
After a divorce, it is crucial that parents encourage the children to develop a strong relationship with both parents. Parental alienation is not always engineered on a conscious level; thus, the signs must be immediately recognized.
Common signs of parental alienation can include:
- A child who commonly criticizes the alienated parent unjustly.
- A child who shows unconditional, unwavering support for the alienating parent.
- A child who acts out physically or verbally against the alienated parent and later shows no guilt.
Unfortunately, the longer the alienation is allowed to continue, the harder it becomes for any level of treatment to counteract the devastating emotional effects. The child not only suffers the loss of a parent in the short term, but he or she might experience irreparable damage to the relationship in the years or decades to come.