Turning a Child Against the Other Parent: Bad Idea and How To Avoid

The term used by psychologists is “parental alienation”. If you want to destroy your child’s relationship with the other parent, we’ll show you how to do it in three easy steps and why it’s a very bad idea to do so.

Step 1: Limit interaction with the other parent

Consider the visitation agreement as only an inconvenience. As much as possible arrange excuses for your child to miss out on weekends, holidays, and phone calls involving the other parent. Small children won’t protest. You can lure older children away with more exciting events like afterschool activities, sports games, concerts, and shopping trips.

Step 2: Cut off information

Your ex does not need to know every detail. Schools, doctors, and so forth should be contacting only you. Make sure just your address and phone number is all they have on file. Hinting that sharing information with the child’s other parent could cause the child harm will ensure that they comply.

Step 3: Help the child understand

Show how upset you are when your children talk about the other parent. Don’t hide your negative emotions. They need to recognize that your ex has caused you to suffer and they should protect you. You’ve stuck around to care for them while the other parent has not. They need to learn to focus their affection on who is most important.

Be vigilant

Ensure that your children keep their guard up on those occasions when they must interact with the other parent. Do this by telling them all the reasons why your ex is bad company. Repeat your concerns so they don’t forget.

How to know if it’s working

It’s easy to tell: soon your children will be making excuses by themselves to talk and visit less frequently with their other parent. Soon they may want to cut off the relationship completely.

The Results (BAD)

Keep in mind that while you practice all the steps above you’ll be causing your child harm. You may see her become depressed and suffer with low self-esteem. It’s obvious she isn’t wanted by the other parent because there’s so little contact. She’ll start to hate and blame herself. She wants to love the other parent but she isn’t allowed to, and isn’t allowed to grieve the loss, either. Her natural childlike trust in others may diminish. After all, her other role model is now a villain. Who can she turn to?

What seems like an effective way to twist the knife and exact revenge results in destroying your relationship with your children, too. They may do as you demand to keep the peace and protect you, but they will end up fearing and hating you. They will grow distant from you as well. 1

Turn it around before it goes down: The Solution

You’ve been hurt and so have your children. Your hopes and dreams for your family are sinking fast in waves of despair just like the Titanic. Don’t be selfish like Rose - there was room on that plank for more than one person and we all knew it.

The following most certainly does NOT apply to families where a parent is a definite danger to the children. There are perfectly legitimate times when it is best to limit contact.

Step 1: Let love grow

Regular absence does not make the heart grow fonder. Respect that your children and their other parent need time to work on their relationship, too. Make it possible for them to do that, whether by in-person visits or calls and FaceTime. If you’re having a hard time while they’re out, arrange something fun for you to do, too.

Step 2: Let the info flow

Share the good and bad news. Invite the other parent to school programs and doctor appointments if you two can be civil in front of your child. Wouldn’t you want to know what’s going on if the situation was reversed?

Step 3: Help the children understand

It’s okay to let your children know that your separation from their other parent is painful. They’re suffering too. Remind them that they are loved even if the adults in the family aren’t getting along with each other. Keep the lines of communication open and let your children express themselves. Be honest without being critical. If you are really upset with your ex, vent to a friend, not to your children.

Be compassionate

The other parent will probably do things that you won’t like. Maybe they let the children watch a werewolf movie for Halloween and now they have nightmares. Nobody’s perfect. Unless their mistakes are endangering the children, be forgiving of their efforts to be a good parent. They may be doing the same for you.

How to know if it’s working

Do you children get excited when they’re about to go on a visit with their other parent? Do they look forward to a bedtime phone call? That doesn’t mean they love you less. It only means they have a good relationship with the other parent. And that means you’re doing a good job, too. You have their trust because they aren’t afraid to show their enthusiasm to you. Congratulations, it’s working!


If you’re the one who’s been alienated

Be patient and take it slow

Your child is full of conflicting emotions and frightened. They’ve been coached to fear and hate you. This is probably not going to resolve quickly. 2 It may even take two steps forward and then one step back.

Be calm

Prove by your actions and not just your words that you are their loving parent. Be present, be consistent, be honest. 3 Don’t retaliate by criticizing or blaming the other adult. You can still stand your ground to enforce your rights; you don’t need to be a victim.

Enlist the help of others

This is not the cue for other people to talk your children to death with tales of how wonderful you are. This is the time for others to simply show themselves as relaxed and loving around you in front of your children. Kids are not stupid and they will spot a fake, so don’t try to stage it.

Include the alienating parent

This is the opposite of the tactic that they use. If the kids have a show or activity during your parent time, invite the other parent to attend as well.

What Results Are You Hoping to Have?

If you want happy children, parental alienation is not the path that leads there. 4

Alienation will also not relieve your own pain.

Social workers and therapists have a simple question they use when interviewing children. It goes like, “If you had a magic wand that could make your problems disappear, how would you know it was working?” What would you see? What would you feel?

If you asked your children, what would they say?

What are you willing to do to make the magic happen?

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