Why Sometimes a Child Rejects a Parent After Divorce

The parental alienation is a condition often associated with divorce, which causes a child to reject a parent they once loved. What distinguishes this syndrome from a routine parental conflict? How to prevent it, stop it?

How to distinguish a “parental alienation syndrome” from a trivial conflict with a parent?

According to Professor Richard Gardner, an American child psychiatrist, author of numerous reference publications on the subject, the parental alienation syndrome is a child’s campaign of denigration against a parent.

The diagnostic criteria described are:

1 – stated desire not to see the rejected parent;

2 – development of absurd and sometimes futile strategies to disqualify the rejected parent;

3 – binary and Manichean vision: a parent is all good, the other completely wrong and they did not find any good memories related to the rejected parent;

4 – phenomenon of ‘self’ thinker (that’s me who thinks this, no one influenced me);

5 – the child comes forward as the support of the alienating parent,

6 – animosity is not limited to the rejected parent, but extends to their entire universe, for example the whole family, including grandparents, cousins, etc..;

7 – disturbing lack of guilt in relation to the hardness of attitude toward the alienated parent. The child becomes more distant: they seem to have declared war to the rejected parent;

What factors can make us fear a shift to a “parental alienation syndrome”?

The severity is attested by the fact that the visits (of the rejected parent) are made impossible by the child’s behavior (fear, provocation, emotional or physical abuse, aggression, self aggressiveness sometimes…). Solidarity is common among siblings: welded into hostility, children seem to be one and inter-personal differences fade or disappear. This assessment of the severity of the syndrome is essential: it largely determines the nature of psycho-legal measures to be adopted and is a leading prognostic factor. This is fortunately a relatively rare scenario.

Before this stage, some seemingly minor elements should attract attention because the discharge may have the appearance of spontaneity: the child shows less pleasure towards the parent they are visiting, they are having trouble, they ask not to go, find all kinds of pretexts, such as the fatigue of travelling or an extracurricular activity that particular weekend. The telephone call between visits gets tough: the child refuses to talk on the phone, claiming to have a job, being at the table, having to lie down… It gradually became a real foreign and rejected, powerless parent, one who sees the distance increase…

Doesn’t the appearance of a spontaneous rejection lead to evading the crucial questions that rejection is not pathological? What is the attitude of the ‘favorite’ parents and how do they use the child’s attitude in the conflict? Have they tried to overcome the rejection or not?

What are the solutions or advice for parents facing such a problem? Can we prevent or stop it?

Dr. Paul Bensussan: Except for the cases which are considered “light”, in which a spontaneous resolution is possible, none of these deteriorated situations can be resolved without the assistance of appropriate and psychological legal measures. Children who have ‘chosen their side’, breaking the link with one of their parents may be steady, if not determined, when the psycho-legal action merely proposes measures like psychotherapy, which require investment and the willingness of both parents.

However, we can give advice for separation, anxious to spare the “best interests of the child”.

Advice for parents’ separation

Here is a list of tips and / or mistakes not to commit:

– Never forget that this child is the child of both of you.

– Never ask if they love you more than any other person.

– Help them maintain contact with the other parent.

– Converse of you as adults and do not use the child as a messenger.

– Do not be sad when the child goes to the other parent.

– Do not schedule anything during the time that belongs to another.

– Do not be surprised or angry when the child is with the other parent.

– Do not pass the child from one to the other like an object.

– Do not argue in front of them.

– Do not tell things the child cannot yet understand.

– Let them bring their friends in both houses.

– Get agreement on spending and money.

– Do not make a thousand plans with the child, simply let them be happy.

– Don’t make too many changes as compared to the time before the separation.

– Be nice to other grandparents.

– Accept the new companion that one of you met.

But we must recognize that when the procedure swells and exudes hate, it is sometimes unrealistic to expect parents to abandon their disputes and try to solve them through their children. Then, there’s the child’s desire, a child who is put forward to explain or perpetuate an intolerable situation and one yet detrimental on the long term.

In such situations, there is a high probability that free access leads to a rupture consumed in the strictest legality, on behalf of the apparent willingness of children. When parents have demonstrated their inability to meet the maintenance of their children’s relationship with each parent, the family court is the best and probably the ultimate guarantor of the fundamental rights of children. The psychiatrist and the judge should always work together in this area: the only appropriate response is psycho-legal and psychotherapy without which the firmness of a court decision quickly knows its limits.

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