Understanding a child who rejects a parent: lessons for legal people – part one

This weekend we have again been working on our new site and thinking about those things which are most useful to parents whose children are currently rejecting them.  In doing so I have been trying to walk a mile in the shoes of all those other people who work with alienated parents, school staff, GP’s and those who work in the legal system, be they Judges, Solicitors, Barristers, Social Workers, Guardians or others.  In walking that mile I have also been taking a 360 degree view of the world that each of these people inhabit, examining the training they receive, the belief systems that they may hold and the presumptions and assumptions that they may hold about children which are  based upon the world as they inhabit it. I have been doing this so that I can find ways of speaking to those people, about children who reject a parent, to help them more easily understand why rejection happens and why it is so important to do something about it. This weekend then I have been writing lessons for legal people and this is part one.

Part one – lessons for legal people

  1. The first lesson to learn is that children who reject a parent completely after separation rarely do so because of something a parent has actually done to them. A child who completely rejects a parent is usually doing so because of pressure being placed upon them which is largely unseen because the parent who is causing it is either high functioning and able to disguise it, or is being assisted to do so by a legal and mental health system which does not understand alienation in a child.
  2.  If a child justifiably rejects a parent there is a trail of evidence which can be examined and seen.  When there is no evidence of why a child is rejecting and the reasons a child gives for refusing to see that parent are visibly weak or nonsensical, this is evidence that the child is captured in an intolerable position and rejection of a parent is the child’s only way out.
  3. Children who once had a loving relationship with a parent do not suddenly or inexplicably decide that they no longer want to see that parent.
  4. Both parents do not always contribute to the child’s ‘decision’ to reject a parent. Whilst there may be contributory factors coming from both sides, it is the alignment and the pressure on one side which causes the child to reject a parent.
  5. Traditional forms of therapy are not the way to treat alienation in a child, in fact traditional forms of talking therapy may well end up entrenching the child’s rejection.  Therapeutic intervention with children who reject a parent requires skill, attunement and often team work.
  6. It may not be possible to treat some alienated children whilst they are living with the aligned parent and trying to do so can prolong the harm being done to the child.
  7. Children who reject a parent without justification urgently need outside intervention. The rejection is a sign that the family has failed to make post separation adaptations and needs help.
  8. Leaving a child who is completely rejecting a parent, without investigation, help or route to restoration of the relationship with that parent is harmful to a child’s wellbeing because it is likely that the child has entered into a state of psychological splitting, which causes long term damage.
  9. A parent who is trying to draw your attention to the predicament that their child is in is not contributing to the alienation of that child but is trying to get help.
  10. Children who make allegations of abuse against a parent, in a sequence of events in which the allegations confer power away from one parent and towards the other, are often caught in a damaging dynamic in which the allegations are being inculcated by one parent against the other in order to maintain power.  (Children who make real allegations of abuse will most often do so in a random manner which is not related to the actual separation of their parents).

For those legal people who are interested in the research evidence, Richard Warshak has recently written a powerful piece about fallacies around parental alienation and it is worth reading it here.

For legal people who are interested in the damage that psychological splitting does to children you can read more about that here.

For legal people who believe that separating a child from a parent who is causing them to reject a parent is harmful, more information about the benefits of separating a child from an abusive parent can be found here.

For legal people who believe that parental alienation does not exist or that there is no peer reviewed research on it in the world, you can read peer reviewed research evidence here.

For legal people who believe that parental alienation is not accepted in the UK Family Courts you can find case law which demonstrates that it is here.  This is only one Judgement, other relevant judgements will be made available  on our new site which is coming very soon.

If you are a practitioner or professional working with separated families in the family courts and you do not currently subscribe to the belief that parental alienation exists, please take some time to follow these links and understand what the issue is and why it is important to know much more about it.  Too many people working with families affected by alienation seek to impose their own belief systems upon the problem, making it much worse for children not better.

The Children Act 1989 in the UK requires you to act in the best interests of children. Not knowing enough about why a child rejects a parent, or being willing to simply leave a child who is doing so without any help, is not acting in their best interests.

If you want to know why parents become so upset and angry about this issue, why not follow these links and upskill yourself, so that you are at least on the same page as the children you are charged with helping.


  1. Well said as always, Karen. I think one of the problem professionals face is our current belief in society that a victim must be believed. Thus when a child makes false allegations (or indeed the alienator makes false allegations) the role of victim is immediately invoked and hence they must be believed. The idea that there should be evidence of these allegations does not sit well with this belief and the argument will be that often there is no evidence other than the word of the victim (regardless of you saying otherwise). Indeed people who do not believe in alienation often argue that the voice of the child must be trusted and listened to and the main fault of the courts and professionals is that they fail to listen to the child.


    1. I think you are right Kat, that combined with the personal belief system of whoever is doing the work is a toxic mix which has no place in deciding the future for children who are vulnerable. I was reading an excellent book over the weekend about the impact in the physical body of adverse childhood experiences, based on neuroscience, the argument is that divorce and separation, removal from a once loved parent and pressure brought to bear on a child through alienation, causes high levels of cortisol, a toxic mix of other hormones and changes to the child’s brain by pruning of neorons. Psychological splitting, in which the child has to hive off half of it’s experience in order to survive, causes changes in the hippocampus, amygdala and alters a child’s ability to process anger and rage. The reason so many alienated children are so angry is because their brain has been fundamentally altered through the pruning of neurons and the reduction of their capacity to learn new behaviours. This for me is proof more than anything else that causing alienation and allowing it to fester causes long term damage to a child. This is about so much more than relationships with parents, so much more than parental rights, this is about child protection and anyone who cares about children has, in my view, a duty to understand this. In our work, even if we cannot restore the actual relationship between a child and a parent, sometimes because the court will not or cannot assist that, sometimes because the child is already too damaged, we focus on helping the child to at least unlock the door in their mind to the other parent so that they can one day open it and begin to restore health. Autoimmune disorders, anger, rage, C.PTSD, anxiety, relational problems and more await children who are forced into this position. It simply cannot be right to allow this to continue.


      1. Hi Karen
        Another coincidence! I’ve also been looking at neuroscience research and the developing brain for my dissertation. It’s a paradox that convention assumes that adolescents have developed adult capacity at about the time that the most pruning and rewiring is actually occurring.
        Despite this research having been reported on for the last 15 years the legal commentary has largely ignored it. It is actually fundamental to any debate on capacity and how we listen to children’s wishes and feelings as it is based upon data and findings that almost completely contradict the conventional wisdom that is largely rhetorical.
        It is not a coincidence that children are most vulnerable to the alienation reaction during the time that people like Prof. Sarah Jane Blakemore describe as adolescence.
        It is simply incredible to see how some commentators and texts cling jealously to old information that suits their agenda. e.g Sturge and Glasser is still being cited as an authority to dismiss the existence of alienation despite the accumulation of a mountain of peer reviewed research since. Successive generations of professionals are being misinformed in spite of reports like this having been comprehensively debunked. Sir James Munby has made it abundantly clear that “expert” reports MUST evaluate and appraise alternatives. Sturge and Glasser failed miserably to conform with, what are now, fundamental requirements for anyone that wants to be called an “expert”.


      2. Well written. Have you sent this side of the argument to all organisations who wish to change the law?We have to stop this “alienation” or should be use the twee advocate term so as not to offend of “implacable hostility by one parent” (generally), in the first place. Courts cannot change to ensure a balanced viewpoint of yours because the law does not automatically regulate this at present. Such a law will act insuperably above Children’s Acts because if will automatically assume that parental responsiblities by parents is axiomatic. J4MB have supported this and argue quite rightly that only when criminal convictions of abuse are proven (against men AND women) will custody variations differ to protect the so as not to have full engaging parental responsibility rights with their children. ( A term provided to me by a client). And dare I admit that the Women’s Equality Party (WEP, as stated on page 14 of their manifesto, want these aims too,(but have not caught on the fact that perpetrators of alienation should be punished!) It is only when this legal loophole is closed by having such fundamental legislation, as fostered by FnF/J4MB and WEP for responsible parity of parental responsibility rights, will in this respect alienation and its attended psychological dysfunctional affects decline.
        Alienation from your viewpoint assumes a new generation of possible psychopaths of up to 140,000?children a year who are being experimented in this manner. (20% of failed partnership/marriage failures each year based on 350,000 couples who end their partnerships with 2 children each: FnF figures 2015).
        I received an email from a client last Thursday (as a Samaritan) requesting why there is not unbiased and serious protective intervention by our medical professionals. I was asked could someone professionally contact (email) every community Health Center with your detailed research analysis?You will be surprised the results. Some GP’s see this daily as I was also informed. This as you write is an epidemic of abuse kept secret by society, being, “swept under the carpet” at this time.
        Your influence in Cornwall Children Services at Bodmin (browser informed) would be of paramount support. Recent research has found that there were over one hundred serious conflicts of interest of the lack of concern by these professionals in their biased reporting and lack of acquiring the factual evidence in a lot of families situation causing unnecessary abuse to children which is ongoing in 2011 and 2012! One FnF member and now more are having to waste years of their time taking this Unitary Authority to Court for many reasons, including dereliction of duty and power et al. At the same time my Samaritan “surgery” is filling up with such concerns, as are the similar comments provided to me from our local CAB officers; Also both parents and grandparents are pulling their hair out as this nefarioius injustice, and nothing is being done legally to support the children and their families affected. Well done J4MB and FnF for their factual and compassionate fortitude in exposing what is really needed by our society, one where children live with all in balance with their families.
        We need national recognition of your work and the need for fundamental legislation change; a proper “spring clean”. Psychological support as yours helps is fundamental, but ridding the cause of this disease is the cure.
        Amazing Grace (2015) has more emails to answer. Got to go, but keep up the good work.


      3. Karen this comment is profound. I think the neurobiological damage that can have lasting consequences for the developing child is heartbreaking.


    2. Thank you for writing this. I haven’t seen my 24 year old daughter since she was 11. It still breaks my heart.


      1. the relationship with my 24 year-old daughter was ruthlessly corrupted and, systematically, destroyed by ex just before her 10th birthday. such was my naivity, i had no clue a parent, in this society, was capable of such behaviour until way after the PA process was complete……….and that’s as an alienated child of the 60’s!!

        to make matters worse, this (eldest) daughter was used to indoctrinate her younger siblings, then aged, 7, 5 & 2 years old – to this day, my only son, now 16, still relies on the direction of his eldest sister who was promoted to the role of “child-carer” for my ex and a “lieutenant” for the younger troops

        lee, i think i can empathise with you to some extent and having “been through the mill” will say that i feel fortunate that my heart still breaks when pondering the emotional damage done to those defenceless children that we, as parents, were supposed to protect…………..that’s how i know my love for them is as strong as ever and that, one day, that love will transmit itself to them directly or indirectly.

        we can’t control what life throws at us but we can decide what moral values to employ when we respond……..hopefully, that’s the one positive lesson our children will take from their tragic experiences


      1. …..can’t say for sure but what i know, from personal experience, is that despite living under the terror of my alienating parent from the age of 6-7 i never for a moment doubted the love of a father who fled to Canada in 1970 and i wouldn’t see again until 1990 when i was 27. throughout the 20 year period, i privately, blamed my mother and allowed my father to show his true character when we reunited. i remembered him fighting to see me as a 6/7 year-old and my mother’s attitude to him……..that was sufficient to satisfy me of his love for. a need we all have as humans

        on the balance of probabilities, I’d say your daughter is aware of your feelings but, like most, struggles to cope with reconciling your love with the feeling she has for you and the love she also NEEDS to feel she’s receiving from her mother……very complex for adults at the best of times so what chance does a child/young adult have?


      2. correction……..”that was sufficient to satisfy me of his love for me”…….


  2. Karen, you must have sore feet from walking all those miles in other people’s shoes! An exercise we should all try more often. It might prevent some of the binary angel-demon thinking you described in your last post.


    1. It isn’t easy DHU and I don’t pretend to do it very well but I try! My frustration gets the better of me at times which I am sure you can detect in my writing.


  3. Thank you Karen for your article regarding the children alienation, I strongly believe that most of the judges in the family courts and the cafcass officers and the social services are in denial about the children alienation they are trying very hard to cover their tracks because they are not qualified to deal with it.


    1. I think that it is too difficult a subject for them without training myself and unfortunately, in the UK there is no uniform training (yet) to deal with this problem.


      1. You’re right, Karen, by my experience/observations inform me that that far more fundamental to the training that will help is a genuine desire on the part of the judiciary and professionals to suspend premature (often flawed) judgement coupled with a sincere “will” to really understand the dynamics at play….not to mention, the self-awareness, honesty and integrity to admit to themselves )and others) they lack the knowledge and/or experience to handle any particular case

        A deep sense of meaning, purpose, fulfillment as well as peace of mind seem to be missing from the goals and objectives of too many of these so-called specialists


      2. Thanks for the piece Karen, and/but as you know Karen it goes deeper than that, because Cafcass certainly will say and DO say that they DO recognise parental alienation or implacable hostility, and that they DO have systems in place to assess its impact with regard to signposting to their own tools being the ‘Impact of Parental Conflict’ tool, and ‘Coached Children Knowledge Bite’. They even, without irony, refer staff to Dr. Kirk Weir’s research ‘Effects of Parental Alienation on Children’s ‘Ascertainable Wishes and Feelings’ which clearly says you must look beneath the actual words a child speaks and go deeper to uncover what’s really going on, and this brings me to my point – there is a lot of talk about listening to ‘the voice of the child’, and lately about hearing the pure voice of the child (read this phrase in a judgement recently and have tracked back to find reference but can’t find it as yet). However, unless a practitioner is fitting all these pieces together, looking at the history of the previously good relationship, and reflecting on why behaviours and words from these children are now so extreme, and understanding how deep the psychological manipulations can go, and how much children seek to protect themselves (unknowingly) and ‘protect’ their other loved parent (beyond what is reasonable), and crucially Karen that practitioner is wiling to get messy and take on challenging situations, then what we get is top dressing in the form of contact orders (which have no hope of being adhered to), and recommendations that are not policed, and children left, with the sure and certain knowledge that no-one in the court system is going to help them so the best thing is to entrench their (assisting the alienating) views so they can get some relief, in the form on less pressure from the alienating parent who is getting, from the court system, what they seek (namely sole governance over the child(ren). In our case we had recommendations made by the Cafcass officer in the court report, in terms of stipulations about how the resident parent should speak positively to the child about the non-resident parent, that in conversation the Cafcass officer had admitted were unlikely to be enacted as he acknowledged the resident parent was very entrenched in their hostility. How can it be acceptable that you give a recommendation when you know that a) it won’t be enacted, and b) no-one is going to police it anyway. Isn’t that fraudulent?
        The current system is doubly, dangerously, blind, in that it isn’t even admitting its own failings and ignorance, at any level, and instead just refers any complaints back to its own self-belief, held right up to the highest governmental level (Secretary of State), that it has the right training, measures and safe-guards in place to protect children at risk of, and suffering the effects of, parental alienation, or implacable hostility, under its jurisdiction. Its the Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome, and children and families are being horrendously failed by the wilful institutional blindness every single day.
        Small glimmers of hope appear Karen, in your writings, and, this weekend, in the Saturday Times article http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/life/families/article4594950.ece about the new documentary made by PACT http://www.pact-online.org/pacts-new-film-sarah-cecilie/ and the courage of its founder, Lady Catherine Meyer, to speak so openly about the effects on her and her children of their enforced non-contact for 10 years.
        Whilst PACT exists to raise awareness and offer support around child abductions its just a twist of semantics to identify the child victims of PA as also being abducted, just in our case not across any international borders. The child in our life is just as estranged, and held just as much hostage, but in our case its our own courts who have been helpless to see the truth and effect reunification.
        Thanks as always Karen.


  4. After enduring more than a decade of ignorance from every ilk of “professionals,” your understanding of what actually occurs in situations of severe alienation is refreshing and hopeful. Regrettably your perception is rare. In my experience an understanding of parental alienation does not exist in the USA. Thank you for the children you are able to benefit and the hope that my child may someday read your work and not continue the harm into the next generation.


    1. You are welcome AP and i hope you will join us at our new site where we will have a place for messages for children which hopefully your children will one day see. K


    2. Karen I forwarded this post to Craig Childress, as it chimes (in my opinion) with his view and summarises the key points you share in what is actually going on. I wanted to share his reply:
      ‘Thank you for sharing this. I am aware of Karen Woodall’s work in the area of “parental alienation” and I think she is one of the major forces for change. Craig Childress, Psy.D.’


  5. In my experience, the error and incompetence (of those charged with adjudicating PA cases) is usually centred on an inability or unwillingness to clearly/correctly identify the perpetrator and victim in each scenario. Make no mistake about it, in most cases, the “act” of PA is committed against the NRP and, therefore, it is that parent who suffers the consequences and is the primary victim. Yes, subsequently, the child also suffers from the act (as does the perpetrator in the end) but, ultimately, as a secondary victim.

    All too often, this sets the scene for a “battle of the victims”………and we all know that human nature suggests the winner of that contest will gain the support and sympathies of the majority of those involved that have power and influence. The result is a “hierarchy of power” construct akin to that discussed in the “Ghost-busting:…..” post, dated 23 Jun-15, where the alienator is perceived as the primary victim, closely followed by the the child(ren), with the alienated party firmly assigned the role of villain

    It’s no wonder that we see no real improvement or enlightenment in this area. People’s lives have been reduced to a game-playing battle of egos that have far more to do with each person’s need to impress others, survive their own feelings of inadequacy and earn as much money as possible rather than dispense the duty of care owed to our children and, ultimately, society.

    Parents, solicitors, social workers, psychologists, judges et al…….you know which of you are guilty of the above


    1. I would say in all cases the NRP is the alienated parent EHFR, the role of NRP could have been created for that very reason in my view. All you have to do to alienate a child is remove them from the parent they love, diminish that parent’s power in their lives, speak of them as irrelevant, feed the child a stream of negatives, build upon the child’s growing resistances, be silent when the child says positive things and visibly happy when the child conforms to the covert instructions and there you have it. Child arrangement orders in the UK are supposed to do away with the role of NRP but they don’t in my experience.


      1. Until the IMMEDIATE consequences of PA are too painful for the alienator to, PERSONALLY, bear/endure nothing will change for the better. We have become so cerebral we often forget that the core drivers of human behaviour are those of pain and pleasure, risk and reward. Those feelings, of pleasure and reward, are far too addictive for a selfish alienator to overcome where there is no effective sanction


  6. This is great Karen. A paradigm for society.

    Now all you need to do is for thousands of others like you to visit every Cafcass Officer and every Children’s Services public servant and to get them to realise this effectively and “Bob’s Your Uncle”. QED.


    1. This post has attracted the highest and widest readership I have ever had for a post TMP and someone is clearly sharing it. Never underestimate the power of the positive and the power of people to change the world.


      1. Here here!

        Only when sufficient ordinary people wake up to what’s been going on, for so long, will the majority stand up and say NO MORE. When they understand that (like alcohol, drugs, debt, crime, etc.) this problem will find its way to their door one day…..whether through friendships, family or their own children

        As with so many social injustices down the years, it will be people power that creates the “shift” and pioneers like you, Karen, are the individuals who will take us to that bridge that is the “promised land”

        The fall of the iron curtain, the end of apartheid and the success of the U.S. civil rights movement were all, once, the dream of the few


  7. Truer than most care to believe!

    These cases are, generally, about the judge/professional’s personal “view of the world” and THEIR STORY rather than the plight of the child or the alienated parent


      1. Apologies for the brevity of my reply (re Omar’s original post) – my comment was intended for the benefit of any reader attempting to follow the thread


  8. Unfortunately, the legal system composed of many people who are not documented, not deepen, not called into question … and even more, implies a result of self that does not evolve and does not resolve issues. The psychological phenomenon of parental alienation caused increases exponentially because the problem is not addressed in a systemic way and disciplined team. Many times we have the impression of speaking in front of the wall, when we need to talk to the wind that messages would be spread around the world!


  9. Karen, I am worried that my daughter may be experiencing C-PTSD. How do I go about finding someone who can help her with that and who also understands PA?


      1. will mail you, your email has just popped up, there are some very good EMDR therapists who could help, I will mail you tomorrow. K


  10. Over a period of years situations and feelings may well change. The initial bad feelings that accompany the immediate break up may temper.
    When the initial break up has caused vast distances to open up and harsh words spoken have left both parents feeling bitter,resentful and hard done by the opportunities to make good the relationship with your children has sadly diminished.
    Instead of making good through a desire to make amends both parents will write retrospective script in their favour. This is perfectly natural and is probably a mechanism by which each individual maintains justification for their role in a difficult past.
    The alienator will be proclaiming the other parents disinterest in their children and the alienated will be protesting being unwanted or blocked from participating in their child’s upbringing.
    The absurdity of the situation is that each parent should waste so much time justifying their self-righteousness when it is their children that suffer from such behaviour.
    Children have two parents. When their behaviour accepts such a notion and individual responsibility is taken the sacrifices they make to accommodate a safe passage for their children will all seem worthwhile.
    To be alienated is to be helpless . To alienate is to wield power,control mechanisms, to protect, contain and sustain.

    Are you on the fence or are you firmly entrenched at one end of the spectrum? Where do you choose to be?

    Kind regards


  11. Karen, I mean this in the best way possible and no doubt you kknow that – please don’t let your feet rest no matter how many blisters you got cause we need all that for the major force for change….

    In the last couple of days, I have had cause to mention to a couple of people how I have been rejected by my children for 5+ years. As usual, the initial reaction is “No way! You? No way can your children reject you! Those poor children missing out on a dad like you……blah blah blah etc etc etc….

    BUT THEN, they go away and think about it (or even on the spot sometimes) and the typical next stage reaction is “….but are you sure you haven’t abused them in some way? Maybe you did something….in this country you have a right to see your children and take them to and fro school and other activities …. doesn’t matter how much they spend on legal fees but in this country you have that right and you should be able to see your kids….” and it goes on …

    Firstly, please can someone confirm to me we live in a country call England and not timbuktoo (and yes I know there’s a Timbuktu in Africa – I’ve spelt mine differently ok?…ok!) cause I just wasn’t aware of such a fair law…

    So then I begin wondering that if Joe Bloggs on the street talks like this then why in the world (of england and not timbuktoo) do so-called-child-care-experts like cafcass etc also talk like that? One reason is that it ain’t happened to them – yet! A big change will certainly come – when those in power get hit by alienation!

    And then I thought that even that may not do it! Because I know that my children’s mother’s solicitor herself suffered rejection from her children (probably justifiable rejection too!), and then manipulated everything as it comes so naturally to her and managed to get her children with her and then alienated them.

    So then, we are left with education – education of the so-called-professionals, as well as education of the target parent like us. It is us who will have to always be strong and get the result we must get – that’s one sure fire way of doing it…

    Although, in my opinion, there are other posts on this site that are award-winning as well, I’m not too surprised this posting has been shared so much because those involved in litigation will want to show it to the so-called-professionals and get them to understand this death-defying phenomenon silently eating away in society that we just can’t articulate as well as we would like to.

    I am certainly tempted to get those 2 joe bloggs I met yesterday to have a look at this article by Karen. Having said that, if anyone has an even simpler way of explaining to others about why our children reject us, then please do write it here.

    If nothing else, I’ll maybe just try to tell them what Karen wrote so well on 26/10/2015 at 9:13am


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