Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: What to Do When the Other Parent Speaks Negatively About You to Your Child (page 2)

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on May 7, 2010

When Bad-Mouthing Damages Your Relationship with Your Child

There are times when bad-mouthing parents do succeed in destroying a child's relationship with another parent. Many courts are very sympathetic to parents who can prove that another parent is teaching a child to be hateful and critical, but the process of educating decision makers still has a long way to go. If it appears as though you have tried to remove yourself from the conflict and have avoided using the same tactics, and this has not brought an end to the damage being done to the child, you must carefully document your child's behavior and consult an attorney so that you may seek court intervention. There is no certainty that court intervention will reverse the process, but at that point you will probably have to move ahead within the legal system in order to address the problem.

When Children Reject Their Parents

With ever-increasing frequency, children are reporting that they want nothing to do with one of their parents. I have spent the majority of my career studying visitation refusal and what others have called parent alienation syndrome. Personally, I do not favor the use of this term, primarily because the American Psychological Association does not recognize the phenomenon as a "syndrome," so if a psychologist uses this term in the context of a legal dispute, it is easily attacked because there is no reliable diagnostic category associated with it. Second, the term describes only half of the reason why children reject their parents, and it implies that the rejected parent is a passive victim whose child's mind was bent and twisted by the alienating parent. Most professionals, even professionals who favor use of the term parental alienation, acknowledge that the rejected parent usually contributes to the rejection by making such mistakes as becoming angry at the child, rejecting the child, and displaying anger at the other parent.

How the phenomenon of children rejecting their parents occurs is a matter of speculation and concern among mental health professionals; the fact that it does occur is indisputable. The degree to which the conflict of not wanting to see a parent affects a child's mental health is profound. It is profound enough to drive a child to self-destructive behavior.

If a child is forced against his will, he might run away or threaten to harm himself. While I have never seen a child harm himself over being forced to see a parent, I have been involved in cases where children have threatened it, and that is scary enough. I have also had the unfortunate experience of being involved in a case in which a child's guilt over rejecting a parent became so overwhelming that she took her own life.

Over the past ten years my staff and I have delivered more than ten thousand hours of reconciliation counseling in cases where children have refused to see their parents or have said they never want to see a parent again. The cases are not considered reconciliation counseling when they involve an act of physical abuse or neglect. These are cases where a child decides they no longer want to see a parent.

Often the precipitating event for cases like these is a child acting out the custodial parent's agenda. I have had children refuse to see a parent because there has not been enough child support paid. I have witnessed visitation being refused because children do not want to see or deal with a parent who has been unfaithful to the preferred or favored parent. At my clinic we have had children refuse visitation claiming the rejected parent is "not a nice person." The good news is that the vast majority of these cases end successfully, which is to say that the rejected parent and the child do reestablish a relationship with one another. The bad news is that the mental health community often hampers good results by promoting suggestions that are made with the best intentions but nevertheless prevent reconciliation. These suggestions include giving a child a rest or break from visitation, or suggesting the child not visit at all.

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