If a parent attempts to alienate their child against the other parent, some children will be able to resist and remain connected to both. In learning which children are more likely to be successfully alienated some patterns have been identified. For example, children younger than seven years of age are less likely to become alienated from one parent because they are unable to “hold” onto the resistance involved in coaching and brainwashing. However, as they age and if the alienation continue they will likely succumb to the pressure. Many professionals see alienation of a child peaking around age 11. According to Johnston and Kelly (2001), “An alienated child is one who expresses freely and persistently, unreasonable negative feelings and beliefs toward a parent that are significantly disproportionate to the child’s actual experience with the parent.”
Researchers have noted that children with the following characteristics are more likely to be successfully alienated from a parent:
- Vulnerable personality
In addition, these children tend to rescue and care for the alienating parent because they recognize their emotional vulnerability and because they fear losing their love. The alienating parent makes it clear to their child, both directly and indirectly, that if the child is not 100% for them then they will be betraying them. The childs highly sensitive nature allows them to pick up on the subtleties of the alienating parent’s emotionally fragile state. The child also picks up on the alienating parent’s threat to turn against them if the child does not totally comply. They fear the wrath of the alienating parent who is generally more dominating than the other parent.
Because their alienating parent will likely have poor boundaries, the child will not have a strong sense of self. The parent thinks of their child as a part of them and refers to the two of them as if they are the same person. They expect the child to think exactly like they do and to remain dependent on them. With younger children, the parents insist upon sleeping and/or bathing with the child. They may look to outsiders as very attentive parents when in reality they are physically and emotionally way too close. Over time the childs sense of separate boundaries can become blurred. They will eventually take on the emotions and beliefs of the alienating parent without question. It is not uncommon for these children to become emotionally enmeshed and dependent upon the alienating parent. Although they may do well in school they will fall far behind their peers socially and emotionally. Sadly these alienated children will select the parent who creates conditional love while rejecting the parent who loves them unconditionally. In extreme cases, these children are never able to leave home, even to attend college, and will remain in the alienated parent’s home indefinitely.
These at risk children, often experienced a history of separation anxiety, guilt over their parent’s divorce and were likely caught in the middle of their parent’s warfare. They often have poor coping skills and reality testing.
The last of this series, part IV, will examine the circumstances and characteristics within children that help them resist the efforts of an alienating parent to turn the child against the other parent.
Widely known for her expertise in the area of divorce and the family, she provides training to educators, family law and mental health professionals, as well as “High-conflict divorce” and “Parenting Coordination”.She has trained parenting coordinators since 1997, and as a result, co-authored the first and only comprehensive model of parenting coordination. Respected in their field, Susan has conducted numerous seminars on the international, national, state and local levels on topics such as parental alienation and visitation refusal, interviewing children, therapeutic and supervised visitation and developmentally appropriate time-sharing plans.
She has been awarded clinical membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and is a member of multiple organizations including the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.Mrs. Boyan maintains a private practice in Georgia.
Latest posts by Susan Boyan (see all)
- Seek and You Shall Find;Confirmation Bias with Divorce - July 1, 2015
- King Solomon’s Advice on Co-Parenting - June 3, 2015
- Part II. Different Paths to Seek a Divorce - May 21, 2015