Parental Alienation – An Overview of Toxic Parenting

Parental alienation is usually the result of emotional and psychological child abuse.


Parental Alienation is a term used to describe the heartbreaking social dynamic in which a child feels and expresses a very strong dislike, sometimes even hatred, for one of their parents. This usually develops during or after a high conflict divorce, as a result of parental bullying and manipulation.


Parental alienation can have terrible, long term effects on the relationship between the child and the rejected parent. Additionally, the damage to the mental and emotional well-being of the child is usually devastating and often lasting, as it can negatively affect their ability to have strong, lasting relationships in the future.


With the exception of situations where there is a history of child abuse or violence against the child, which would result in an understandable rejection of the abusive parent, parental alienation tends to happen in one of two different scenarios. It is either caused by the rejected parent themselves, or by the other parent. The cases that are most controversial are the ones where one parent turns the child against their other parent.


When parental alienation is caused by the rejected parent, it usually stems from that parent’s refusal to make the child a priority in their lives, or by treating them in an damaging emotional or psychological manner. For example, repeatedly breaking promises to the child, refusing to respect their privacy or acknowledge their needs, and always putting the needs of a career before the needs of the child can lead to parental alienation.


However, more commonly, parental alienation results from the actions of a toxic co-parent. In this scenario, the toxic parent manipulates the child and convinces them that the rejected parent is a “bad” person who is not worthy of their love or respect. Toxic parenting is sometimes referred to as ‘Hostile Agressive Parenting.’This is achieved in many ways, a few of which are:


  • Offering the child a choice with regards to visitation when the court has clearly ruled that there is no option.
  • Telling the child the intimate details of the marriage, which includes hurtful things the other parent may have said or done. This causes the child to feel protective of the wounded parent and therefore, adverse to being with the “bad” or “mean” parent.
  • Telling the child that the rejected parent is to blame for financial difficulties, or for the “broken” state of the family.
  • Telling the child that the other parent is the reason why the child has to go without certain things they need or want.
  • Using the child to “spy” or “gather intelligence” on the other parent. This also sends a message to the child that the victimized parent is not worthy of respect.
  • When the parent acts as if the child is in need of protection from the other parent. This reinforces the notion in the child’s mind that the other parent poses a threat, or is dangerous.


Parental Alienation is a form of emotional child abuse. Parents need to remember that children are essentially the product of two people. By disparaging a child’s other parent, one is disparaging part of that child. Parents would do well to exercise respect and caution when speaking about their ex in front of their child. The old saying “treat others the way you would want to be treated” is a perfect example of how to discuss your ex in front of your kids.


Parental alienation in the wake of divorce is not as uncommon as one would hope, and can make the divorce process extremely emotionally damaging for both the child and the rejected parent. If you are in the middle of a messy divorce and your soon-to-be-ex is turning your children against you, contact us immediately. This situation will only get worse until drastic measures are sought to reverse or halt the abuse process. Contact us immediately at 517-886-1000, and let us help you save your relationship with your children.