Whether you are recently divorced or currently in the process, it can be difficult to keep your children out of the drama when tensions are running high with your ex. But while it isn’t the end of the world if your kids see you express frustration or annoyance with your ex from time to time, a pattern of disparaging comments – whether true or not – about the other parent can lead to a syndrome known as parental alienation.

Parental alienation is when one parent discredits another to a child or children. The allegations about the other parent can range from mild to incredibly harmful and severe. For example, a parent may say to a child that the other parent doesn’t want to see them or doesn’t love them, which can distort their perception of that parent.

Parental alienation is damaging both to the alienated parent and the child. According to Psychiatric Times, children subject to parental alienation are at higher risk of having future trust and relationship issues, depression and substance abuse.

What are the symptoms of parental alienation?

There are eight distinct symptoms associated with parental alienation syndrome:

  1. The child continually and unfairly criticizes the alienated parent.
  2. The child cannot justify their criticisms with specific examples or reliable evidence, though they may have false reasoning.
  3. The child has only negative feelings towards the alienated parent. This is sometimes referred to as a “lack of ambivalence.”
  4. The child claims that their negative feelings and criticisms towards the alienated parent are all their own, not because anyone fed the ideas to them.
  5. The child has unwavering support for the alienator or the parent who programs them to think poorly about the other parent.
  6. The child feels no guilt about hating or mistreating the alienated parent.
  7. The child uses terms or phrases that seem too mature for their age or mimics adult language when describing situations that never happened or happened before the child’s memory.
  8. The feelings of contempt the child feels towards the alienated parent also extend to other family members related to the alienated parent, such as grandparents, aunts or uncles on that side of the family.

If you find yourself in a situation of parental alienation, you must seek family counseling for your unique circumstances with a qualified mental health provider. An experienced family law attorney can also request a contempt order with the court if the alienation attempts don’t stop.