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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

What Effect Does Parental Alienation Have on Children? (Part Two of Five)

In the first part of this series, I discussed parental alienation, what it is, and what behaviors professionals will look for when asked to work with a family. In this second part of the series, I’m covering the effect alienation has on children.

To me, how alienating behaviors effect children is one of the most important things to know about alienation. It is one of the reasons so many of this do this work. Professionals working in high conflict divorces where alienation may be a factor assist families so a family can be redirected to help children develop healthier coping mechanisms in relationships when they are adults.

A longitudinal study published in 2019 found that more supportive parenting is related to lower levels of parental stress and abusive parenting, which in turn, are related to fewer behavior problems in school-aged children (Choi & Becher, 2018). [1]

Research also tells us that interpersonal problems alone show an increased risk for disruptive behaviors in children. When alienation is occurring, some of the negative effects on children include:

  • Teaching children poor coping mechanisms for solving relationship difficulties that transfers to peer relationships

  • Teaching enmeshment/fusion rather than differentiation and healthy emotional development

  • Teaching entitlement to defy authority (court orders)

  • Teaching a lack of remorse for hurting family members

  • Allowing grandiose sense of empowerment that is not age-appropriate

  • Allowing a child to just “cut people off” as a way to cope with feelings

  • Interfering with a child’s development to address relationship issues in a healthier manner

Children of divorce show better outcome measures of emotional, behavioral, psychological, physical, and academic well-being when they maintain emotional bonds, frequent contact, and quality relationships with both parents. The effect on children in families where alienating behaviors are present is of great concern, especially in divorcing families.

In Part Three of this series I will address the kind of behaviors that contribute to the problem of alienation.

Until next time,

[1] Choi, JK, Wang, D., Reddish, L & Brand, G. (2019) Efficacy of Co-Parenting for Successful Kids: A Longitudinal Pilot Investigation, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 60:8, 630-644

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