Am I Causing Parental Alienation?

“No Way, Not Me!”

If you read the title to this post and immediately answered “no way” without an ounce of hesitation, you probably are “that parent” and should continue reading.  Although we all like to think that we are doing everything we can to be great parents, it never hurts to sit back and partake in some self-reflection time. When it comes to raising children in split households, it can sometimes be hard to see the bigger picture. It can sometimes be difficult to imagine or think about the fact that your child does have a life outside the four corners of your home.  Your child does and will have a unique relationship with each of his or her parents, and it is your job to encourage that.

It’s More Than Physically Withholding a Child

There are many people who think of the term “parental alienation” and immediately think, “I don’t like my former spouse, but I definitely am not keeping the child from them.” However, parental alienation extends beyond physically keeping a child from the other parent.  In fact, most attempts to alienate a child from the other parent begin as an “innocent slip of the tongue” or passive aggressive comments. Below are some examples of comments and behaviors that may not appear to be causing ‘alienation’ but in fact do, as well as examples of alienation techniques, how you should handle the situation, and the impact that it has on your child.


ActionExamplesWhat You Should DoImpact on Children




Refusing to be Flexible with the Visitation Schedule


·       Not allowing an early/late drop off or early/late pick up from time to time.

·       Not being willing to swap dates for important events

·       Requiring that the other parent plan important events around the parenting schedule

·       Telling your child that the other parent “could have scheduled it at a better time”

·       Calling the parent requesting the change “selfish”

·       Be flexible

·       Realize that it is unreasonable to plan all life events around a child’s parenting plan

·       See if there are ways to swap days if needed, or extend another parent’s time with the child

·       Accept that in some instances, it may require you to be selfless and give up time or rearrange your schedule

·       Acknowledge that your unwillingness to flexible makes you equally, if not more unreasonable or “selfish” than the request itself.

·       Children will ultimately miss out on important life events, because there are many events that cannot be rearranged or may selfishly cause other people to m

·       Your children will not be able to witness or experience the problem solving and it may impair their ability to develop the skill to be flexible or problem solve with people in the future.



Refusing to Allow Acknowledge That Children Have Things at Both Homes, and Not Allowing a Child to Transport Their Things Back and Forth to Different Homes.


·       Telling the child that they “have enough toys” at the other parent’s house

·       Warning the child that they “might forget it, and won’t be able to get it for a while”

·       Saying “Why don’t you just keep those there” or “keep these here”

·       Telling your child that “things always get lost at that house.”

·       Allow your child to take their possessions with them to whichever house they want.

·       If there is a toy they love, encourage them to take it with them.

·       Instead of saying “you may forget it” allow them to use this as a learning opportunity on how to be responsible. Sometimes that requires accepting the consequences of forgetting a time or two.

·       Similarly, use this as an opportunity to teach your child to not lose their things. Your child should be responsible for their own things, not the parent.

·       Children will feel guilty for enjoying toys, instead of allowing the toys to bring them joy, which is their purpose.

·       Children won’t be able to embrace that “feeling their best” feeling or sense of security that their favorite dress, blanket, stuffed animal brings to them.

·       Allowing children to take their favorites allows them to appreciate items, as opposed to adopting the belief of “oh well I have another one at the other house.” They will learn to care for items more.



Telling the Child Details of the Divorce Because you “Just Want to be Honest” with Them.


·       Telling your child that “you’re just being honest” usually means you’re not being honest. This is a form of triangulation and is unacceptable.


·       If you really want to discuss the divorce with your child, wait until the child is much older, and have that conversation with both parents present.·       Your child will eventually grow up to have their own perspectives, and at the end of the day, the details of what led to your divorce will matter less, and how you and the other parent handled it is going to be what your kid remembers.

Acting with Sadness or be Emotional When the Child Goes to Spend time with the Other Parent, as it Causes Guilt in the Child.


·       Crying when your child is leaving

·       Expressing or communicating a disproportional amount of how sad you are that they are leaving or how much you will miss them.

·       Be excited for them to go to their other parent’s home.

·       Pretend as if they are going to any other sleepover, or if you were sending them off to their grandparents for the week(end).

·       This causes the child to feel guilt, which can hamper their ability be able to relax and enjoy time at the other parent’s house.






Asking the Child About the Personal Life of the Other parent

·       Is your parent dating a lot?

·       Does your parent like drinking a lot?

·       Does your parent go on fancy vacations?

·       Didn’t they just buy a new car?


·       Communicate with the other parent about concerns you may have in their lifestyle, do not ask children. You are only looking for the answers you want to hear from your children, and likely your children are only trying to please you and tell you what you want to hear. Also, a child is not going to have a clear perception on events or understand the context of the question.·       This will provoke the though in the child’s mind that you are not comfortable asking the other parent yourself.

·       This will make the child question if the things they are asking about are bad, or if the other parent does bad things, or maybe even lies.


Asking a Child to Spy on the Other Parent

·       Maybe listen in to see what they are saying “if you are concerned”·       Communicate with the other parent about concerns·       This puts the idea in children’s heads that parents do ‘bad’ things or are dishonest, and therefore, to find out the truth the child should spy

·       Also, this puts the idea in the child’s head that they may have a reason to be concerned, where no such reason exists

·       The child will begin to distrust the other parent


Creating Temptations or Distractions for the Child When They are With the Alternative Parent


·       Buying gifts for the child when they go to the other parent’s home

·       Excessively communicating with the child when they are with the other parent

·       Allow the other parent to be responsible for the fun- good or bad.

·       Do not buy new things around the time that the child goes to the other parent’s home or send things for them to take with. It is one thing to encourage to take items from home to home, but it is another to buy things that will make the child think of you while the child is meant to be enjoying time with the other parent.

·       The child will start to feel that you don’t think that the other parent is capable of providing fun activities or that the other parent “doesn’t think of these things”

·       This causes another negative feeling about the other parent, even if it is small.











Not Encouraging Fluidity in Holidays and Other Milestones in Life

·       Not encouraging gift making for another parent

·       One-upping the Parent on Holidays or celebrations

·       Celebrating a Holiday twice because the parent “feels guilty” that they child is not celebrating the holiday with them

·       Saying things like “at the party your mom planned” or “Easter at your dad’s” to attempt to create a divide or inequality in the days

·       Saying things like “that is your mom’s job” or “that is your dad’s job” for convenience.

·       Encourage Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts, of making cards on birthdays.

·       If one parent has the child for Easter, do not one-up a parent by making another Easter basket. If you have the child for 3 days of Hanukkah, don’t buy gifts for all 8 days, if the child loses a tooth, get on the same page about the tooth fairy’s role. If one parent is celebrating Halloween, allow that parent to have ‘dibs’ on picking out the costume. You can celebrate by doing crafts or attending a trunk or treat event.

·       On the same note, if the child has a father-daughter, prom, homecoming dance, it makes sense for the mother to take the daughter to get a dress, as it is a fun mother-daughter event.



·       Your child will start to question why you wouldn’t want them to be kind to their mother or father on their special day, and it will put a sense of distrust and skepticism in their minds

·       By doing an extra Easter basket or purchasing additional costumes, you are overstepping the other parent’s ability to create unique memories with the child. Instead it causes the child to compare experiences at both homes, instead of appreciating the effort of a parent.

·       Make sure the same tooth-fairy is visiting both homes. Children will sometimes hold-off on losing teeth in an effort to lose their tooth at the higher dollar tooth fairies house. Part of raising children is to experience these things.

·       One-upping another parent undermines another parent’s decision and implies to children that the other parent isn’t good at decision making.



Being Overly Rewarding or Involved When a Child Comes to You with Minor Concerns

·       Saying things like “thank you for coming to me for that, I understand you are concerned” and further addressing concerns with the child without discussing it with the other parent or fact checking.·       If you child comes to you with concerns about another parent, allow them to state their facts as they perceive them. Tell them that you will speak to the other parent and see if you can come up with a solution or a better understanding of the problem.   Then, go to the other parent and hear out what they say. Come up with a solution together.

·       Tell your child that you appreciate them coming to you, and you are always there to listen, but  that doesn’t mean they are always going to be in the right.

·       A child is going to look for attention anywhere they can get it. Consoling them anytime they have a minor concern or disagreement with another parent may make you feel like a lifesaver now, but ultimately it encourages a child to ‘play the victim’ to get attention.

·       This will cause children to never step outside their comfort zone and develop healthy ways to cope and confront conflict.


“This Sounds Like Me, But I Don’t Mean it in That Way”

If you are reading these examples and thinking “Of course I follow the plan to a ‘T’, it is court ordered” or, “I just want my child to have a good time celebrating the holiday,”  that is okay, these behaviors can happen innocently, sometimes even with pure intentions, but that doesn’t mean that they do not cause harm to a child.  This article is not meant to make anyone feel bad. There are many circumstances where underlying resentment or insecurity can get the best of us, and a person may not even realize they are doing it. But innocent or not, it needs to stop. The courts do not tolerate it, and it can be very harmful to a child.  Sometimes while a parent is busy trying to look like, or be the better parent, they ultimately not only look like, but become a worse parent.

The Takeaway

Hopefully, if readers are able to take anything from this article, it is being able to point out behaviors that have led to alienation with you and your child. Or, if you are the parent causing the alienation, perhaps you start to realize that some of these ‘clever tricks’ or ‘bids’ to get your child’s support, are actually not very clever, and can actually be very damaging.  Just as a parent has the right to experience the benefits and joys of raising a child, a child too, has a right to experience a loving relationship with both parents  So, if any of the behaviors above sound like you, or sound like your former spouse, maybe it is time to sit down and start reevaluating some of your approaches to parenting.