What Is Parental Alienation Syndrome And The Effects On Children

Updated October 5, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Divorce rates are rising in our society today, studies show, and many children are being affected by their parents’ separation more than ever before. In the child’s best interest as far as their mental health is concerned, there are some actions us parents can take to keep them as healthy and content as possible throughout the process.

It is important to note that during a divorce, it is okay to acknowledge your feelings, which can be achieved through an online counseling service tailored to helping you explore and improve your mental wellbeing. It is necessary to keep your children healthy through the process, however, this can’t be at the expense of your own health.

If children are around too many negative conversations between parents regarding a divorce, they may experience something called Parental Alienation Syndrome.

In the article below, we will look into this syndrome, its symptoms, its causes, and how it can be prevented so that even after divorce, a family can thrive.

Parental Alienation And Its Effects On Children

Are You Living With Parental Alienation Syndrome?

Parental Alienation Syndrome occurs when a child displays irrational fear or anger toward one parent. These feelings are usually planted by the opposite alienating parent who is manipulating their child’s feelings in an attempt to keep the child away from the other parent. This syndrome is a form of psychological control to alienate the other parent (as the syndrome’s name suggests), and it is detrimental to the child and to their parent-child relationships. Even if the alienating parent believes they have legitimate justification to turn their child against the alienated parent, this is never okay, and it inflicts psychological harm, child alienation, and prevents the child from receiving the healthy emotional support of a parent and family.

What Is Parental Alienation?

When parental alienation happens, a child begins to feel negative emotions toward a loving parent’s relationship, thus alienating parent for no justifiable reason. This manipulation of the targeted parent can be either purposeful or accidental, but in either case, it should always be taken seriously and steps should be taken to prevent the behavior and ensuing mental health ramifications for both the parent and child. Court orders for a child custody case may also be in the best interests of the child and alienated parent. This is especially true if any child abuse, family violence, or severe parental alienation that can cause the child’s lasting psychological harm is taking place.

Effects On The Children Involved

Parental Alienation Syndrome can have lasting effects on the children or child involved. Parental alienation typically is triggered during a divorce, when kids are trying to listen and trust multiple important adults in their lives who love them very much. However, when one parent – the alienating parent – begins to sling around false allegations and negative comments to convince the child that the other parent – the targeted parent – is “bad,” chaos ensues. This causes confusion in the child’s life, among many other negative emotions that impact their mental health.

Children who experience parental alienation can even experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. It can cause children to behave in a negative or inappropriate manner at school or cause them to feel isolated and alone. They can have difficulty trusting others and could even bring parental alienation into their future children’s lives. Among all of these hardships, children who experience parental alienation may grow up without proper parent-child relationships at no fault of their own.

If you have experienced Parental Alienation Syndrome or know someone who has, you likely understand how difficult it can be. If you’re going through a separation or have gone through one in the past, you know how challenging it can be to remain in a positive frame of mind in front of your children. Luckily, there is help available as you navigate these challenging waters. Many parents have gone before you and found hope, as well as pathways to healthy future relationships. Below, we will look into how to recognize, prevent, and repair relationships affected by Parental Alienation Syndrome.

How To Recognize Parental Alienation

It is important to know that Parental Alienation Syndrome, in which alienated parents create an alienated child due to their own conflicts, is quite common.

Divorce happens at an alarmingly high rate, and in the heat of the moment, negative words and deeds occur between former partners. These happenings are rarely healthy, and they can bring about even more negative and long-lasting consequences and syndromes when children are present.

When attempting to recognize Parental Alienation, you may notice some of the following symptoms:


  • One parent is blaming the other for financial issues or for the child not being able to do a certain activity. You might hear something similar to, “Well, you can’t take swimming lessons any longer. Since your father left us, we have no money to spare.”

Argument Encouragement

  • The child is arguing with one parent, and the other parent encourages the argument or does not help them to solve the disagreement.
  • Both parents have the right to receive information about their child’s health and educational well-being.

Jumping To Extremes

  • When the child has a mark or a bruise, one parent jumps to the conclusion that the other parent was physically abusive without any evidence or reason behind the assumption.


  • One parent is keeping secrets or speaks in a special language with the child, and no one else is able to understand. This separates the child further from the other parent.

Forcing A Choice

  • One parent is asking the child to choose between their two parents and to state which one is better. They may say, “Tell me the truth, which house do you like staying at better?” Or, “Who is more fun, Mommy or Daddy?”

Information About The Separation

  • The children are given too much information surrounding their parents’ separation, specifically negative information about the other parent and the cause of the breakup.

How To Prevent Alienation

Parental Alienation Disorder can be prevented, and you can effectively address parental alienation in its early stages. The best way to do this is for the divorcing parents, both father and mother, to work together and stay positive in front of their children, no matter the emotions they truly feel inside for the other parent.

It is important that the two parents put their differing opinions aside and come together for the children’s sake. It’s very possible to take a collaborative systems approach to create a cohesive family that offers unwavering support to your child. Address these parental alienation issues before domestic violence and abuse come into play, and the legal system has to step in for a bitter custody case.

Take Responsibility

When dealing with parental alienation struggles, both the alienating parent and the alienated parent need to acknowledge and take responsibility for their alienating behavior. If the parent’s actions have been hurtful, such as the alienating parent saying false allegations that were hurtful or not true, it helps if they apologize for their behavior. Both parents should commit to rebuilding trust and honesty with one another. It is important that these respectful actions take place in front of the children. Consider consulting with mental health professionals in family therapy or adolescent psychiatry; most children will appreciate that you’re spending time working through things as a family.

Be Mindful Of Your Emotions

Emotions are high during stressful life changes and divorce is no exception. It is normal to want to say negative things about the other parent, but if you do catch yourself doing this in front of your children, do your best to stop. Remember that your children love and look up to this parent, which is a good reason to treat our ex with the same amount of respect. This will be difficult when the feelings you are showing may not actually represent how you feel inside. If you do accidentally say something negative about the other parents in front of your children, take the time to apologize to your ex. Bring up some good qualities about them as a way to steer the conversation back into a positive direction.

Reach Out For Professional Help

Therapy is a strong tool for any parents that are experiencing trouble within their relationship. It is also helpful when divorce, children, and parental alienation are involved. A counselor can help you work through your relationship challenges in a healthier way by giving you tools and methods to approach and alleviate conflicts as you work through divorce. Many times, a struggling parent and relationship need another perspective on how to approach conflicts most effectively.

If you have a busy schedule with parenting your children, and your career, you may want to consider an online option like BetterHelp. Every BetterHelp therapist is fully licensed, in good standing, and has gone through an intensive review process, which means you can feel confident that you’re in good hands. Equally important, correspondence with your counselor will be kept entirely confidential so you can talk freely about your feelings without fear of judgment.


Are You Living With Parental Alienation Syndrome?

Parental Alienation Syndrome can be a difficult topic to discuss and address, but it’s important to remember that it is something that can be prevented. Even if it is challenging, do your best to speak kindly about the other parent when your children are nearby.

If you say something negative, apologize, and bring up some positive facts to help the situation turn positive again. Remember the signs of parental alienation and seek help from a therapist if you see multiple signs. Even though Parental Alienation is hard to cope with, it can be solved with the help from a therapist, and you can move forward to have a healthy relationship with your children. Have hope and take the steps you need to give your children (and yourself) a happy and healthy family life. Take the first step today. Even though Parental Alienation can be difficult to endure for all parties involved, it is common, and BetterHelp counselors can help.

Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.

Susan is exceptional at what she does, helping people move forward with life in a positive direction. Susan has helped me recover from a divorce, address personal issues that impact me at work, and all my relationships. I have been through many counselors in the past 30 years and I can say Susan is very rare. She is smart, compassionate, caring, kind, and encouraging. I don’t know how I would have made it this far in my recovery if it wasn’t for her. 5 Star.”

“Gabrielle Bryen has been instrumental in helping me figure out the next steps regarding how to best implement a divorce so my family can remain as happy and healthy as possible. She has taken away a lot of my fear and uncertainty and I am deeply grateful for that. I am lucky to have had her insight guide me along a tough path.”

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