Parental Alienation: How to Help a Polarized Child

Parental alienation occurs in high-conflict divorce, where the child is caught between two fighting parents and made to choose sides. While every divorce, every family, and every child is unique there are some universal recommendations for helping the polarized child form and maintain healthy relationship with all of their caregivers. Beyond reunification therapy, how can a child begin to reestablish their relationship with the rejected parent? Benjamin Garber, a PD and Family Consultant lays out several recommendations in his article here.

  • Put the Child’s Safety First: Each allegation of abuse or neglect needs to be evaluated; is the allegation a product of conflict, or does it result in true risk to the child’s safety?
  • Taking a Break Doesn’t Work: Taking a break from the rejected parent will almost never help to improve the relationship between that parent and child; and make resuming contact that much more difficult.
  • Voice, Not Choice: Listening to the child without putting them in a position of choosing between parents is vital. By truly listening we can distinguish needs from wants and helps them to become a part of the process without being forced to pick one parent over the other.
  • Fix the System, Not the Individual or the Dyad: Engaging in productive therapy may require an expansion of our definition. Fulling disengaging the enmeshed parent-child pair and re-engaging the rejected parent requires participation of the entirely family unite; parent’s significant others, siblings and all parties involved may need to provide support if not active involvement in reestablishing healthy norms.
  • Anxiety can Cripple the System: One caregiver’s anxiety regarding the re-integration of the other parent can poisen the process; it is important that the anxiety of the primary parent be addressed so that reconciliation with the other parent is possible.
  • Sometimes, the Rejected Parent has to Step Back and Wait: Some relationships cannot be repaired immediately and when this occurs the rejected parent may need to allow some time for the child to grow and mature. Unlike “taking a break” this requires the parent to remain present and available to the child without being intrusive or “pushing” the child in a way that could cause further resentment.

We understand that divorce can be a harrowing experience emotionally, physically and logistically, which is why we have lawyers here to help. Having an experienced divorce lawyer can make all the difference to your process. Because we focus solely on family law, we understand the dynamics and can help guide you through your divorce. Please contact Elise Buie Family Law Group, PLLC for a free consultation regarding your divorce. Also, for more information about collaborative divorce or mediation please visit our website. 


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