Comparing and Contrasting Children who are Alienated

At any one time I am working with around ten children who are resisting or rejecting a relationship with a once loved parent. That adds up to a lot of children and gives me a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the reactions I see in them both with each other and with the evidence base which has been built up by other experts around the world.  At all times as we work at the Family Separation Clinic , we are finessing the assessment process we have developed to ensure that it meets the needs of the different families we work with.  Comparisons between families and between children’s reactions are a strong element of how we continue to build our evidence base for successful intervention in these cases.

This week I have been comparing and contrasting a group of children in the age group 8-12 which is the group most likely to be affected by an alienation reaction according to experts like Professor Bala from Queens University in Ontario Canada.  This group of children who are from my historical cases, are interesting in that they display the same symptoms albeit different according to their gender and the gender of the parent they rejected.

In this group of ten children there are five boys and five girls.

Boy 1 is aged 12                        Girl 1 is aged 12

Boy 2 is aged 12                       Girl 2 is aged 12

Boy 3 is aged 10                       Girl 3 is aged 10

Boy 4 is aged 9                         Girl 4 is aged 9

Boy 5 is aged 8                         Girl 5 is aged 8

All of the children have rejected their father, apart from Girl 2 who has rejected her mother.

The behaviours of the children are incredibly similar in their withdrawal from their father, apart from Girl 2 whose withdrawal from her mother was not the same as the others. For this girl the withdrawal was slower but more determined in that she appeared to be more in control of her feelings and more able to articulate her reasoning for withdrawal. Additionally, girl 2 was in a spouseified relationship with her father before the breakdown of the family relationship as her mother was disabled and relied upon the girl and the father to take care of her.

All of the boys withdrew from their father over a period of ten to 20 months post separation. The girls withdrew over a period of between 0 and 16 months. One of the girls was not able to ever establish a relationship with her father that was separate from her mother.

Without exception the girls presented as being sure of themselves, their decision to withdraw and the reasoning behind it. Girl 2 demonstrating a heightened ability to describe the reasons why her mother should be rejected completely.  The boys however showed a less capable approach to articulation or reasoning, preferring to shut out all conversation about the rejected parent completely.  Where the girls showed self righteous indignation and a haughtiness and lack of empathy, the boys showed some of the typical fragile behaviours of the alienated child, uncertain underneath and far less sure of themselves and the ‘decision’ they had made.

On reconnection the boys showed a quicker resolution of the rejecting behaviours, settling into a relationship with the once rejected parent within a period of 4 – 14 days. The girls however were slower to reconnect to their fathers and maintained an expressed longing for or preference for a relationship with their mother for some months post reconnection with their father.  The girl who reconnected with her mother showed some continued difficulties in that relationship although her contact with her father was restricted and supervised.

Out of the ten children, six could be said to be showing all eight signs of alienation in a clear and unambigous manner. Four were showing some signs. All were completely refusing to see a parent.

Evaluation of the aligned parent showed that there was a common theme running through all ten narratives which focused upon –

  1. The child should be believed and is only expressing the truth of who that parent really is.
  2. Forcing a child to see a parent is cruel and abusive.
  3. If the child does not wish to see the parent the parent must have done something bad enough to warrant that behaviour.
  4. Children never lie.

Evaluation of the rejected parent showed that –

  1. The rejection by the child appeared to be sudden – ‘I never saw it coming’
  2. The concern of the parent for the wellbeing of the child extended to self analysis and worry – ‘something I have done must have caused this’
  3. Frustration levels were extremely high and had contributed to behaviours with the child which were being used by the child as reasons or excuses for rejection but which would not, in normal circumstances have caused complete rejection ‘he shouted at me because I did not brush my teeth.’
  4. Belief that the child was being made to reject was very high.

Comparing the reactions of the girls who were alienated, all five girls appeared at times to be rude to a parent, including refusing to engage with them in supported contact and feeling entitled to reject them outright.  All of the aligned parents of the girls were overly close in terms of the way in which they shared information, interests and opinions of other people.  Four of the mothers of the boys were engaged in infantilising behaviours in which they considered that doing everything for their sons was a sign of loving them. One of the mothers was actively and coldly instructing her son that his father was a bad person.

All ten children were reunited with the parent they had been rejecting. Three of the boys and four of the girls being the subject of residence change alongside our therapeutic input. Of the remaining three children, the youngest girl was reconnected to her father through long term work with her mother and father and the remaining boys were reconnected to a relationship with their father through a programme of extended staying contact with supporting therapeutic assistance.  Follow up at six months post completion of our intervention showed that the children maintained a relationship with both parents albeit in the case of the girls this was less settled and more fragile than the boys.  Evaluation of this difference showed that the girls interpersonal relationships with their mothers and their identification with their mother’s world view, (even where contact with mother was restricted) were indicators of their inability to reconnect in a settled manner with their fathers. The girls appeared to have a greater sympathetic response to their mother’s feelings than those of their fathers and were less concerned about their father’s ability to cope without them than with their mother’s ability to do so.  In the case of the girl who rejected her mother, her view of her mother was cold and without sympathy and continued to be problematic even after reconnection with her.

Whilst this exercise in comparing and contrasting children from my historical case load is only a short evaluation of the reactions seen in a group of ten children in the age group 8-12, further work is being undertaken to identify common traits in children and the behaviours in parents which encourage them.  This work is part of our research and evaluation programme at the Family Separation Clinic, a venture which will involve working with colleagues from the University of Central London in the coming months to evaluate the elements in our work which are replicable and which form evidence based interventions for treating alienation reactions in children and the behaviours seen in parents which contribute to this. More on this work and other papers we are currently writing about recent cases we have had successful outcomes with, including our joint work with No 5 Chambers as we progress through 2016.


Please note that our Coaching Services at the Family Separation Clinic, for families affected by alienation are now available in the United States as well as in Australia, Canada and Europe. We undertake coaching via Skype for details click here.

Additionally, in 2016 we will be offering courses and workshops in London as well as online via Parental Alienation Direct, our new self help website which is managed by the Family Separation Clinic.

Our courses in London include as support group for mothers as part of our Living Losses Project and bespoke courses which we will advertise throughout the year.

It is our intention to run alienation support groups on a weekend basis throughout 2016, contact us for details at or check back here and at the Family Separation Clinic website.

Finally in Autumn 2016 we will be running the first of our retreat weekends for parents at a rural location close to London where we will focus upon help and intensive support to parents who are coping with the loss of relationship with a child or who are at risk of this loss. Places for this retreat are limited to 20 on a first come, first served basis and the weekend will cost in the region of £450 for three nights full board on an individual room basis.  We will be joined at this retreat by Clinical Psychologists, Hypnotherapists, Counsellors, Yoga Practitioners and a Nutritionist to offer special care to those affected by the impact of disenfranchised grief and loss.







11 thoughts on “Comparing and Contrasting Children who are Alienated

  1. Heartbreaking. When the alienation began our daughter was about 5, I listened to my therapist and the therapist that worked with our daughter as she struggled with the divorce. None of them knew or understood about alienation and gave me so much poor advice. Friends and even my new husband were not understanding and I always felt alone trying to do the right thing. By the time our daughter was 18 alienation was complete and she will have nothing to do with me, she just turned 22 and there are days I feel sure she is never coming home. Thank you for helping these younger children. No one helped me no matter how much I pleaded. Now that my daughter is gone I have lost most of my family and friends who blame me and think I must have done something. I don’t remember what is like to not feel distracted or half a person anymore, I wonder if I ever will.


    1. Never give up hope – we all cope with pressure the best we can and your daughter is no different. Most, also reach a level of understanding (with age and emotional maturity) and she will need YOUR understanding if and when that day comes.

      You may not have dictated the story so far but there’s no doubt your role will be the most significant in determining how the story ends. Be clear on the character you wound like your daughter to believe you possess and be that person, every day…….that way, she’s more likely to find the truth when she comes looking

      Most importantly, you will have done your best (which is all any of us can do)


  2. Oakland Magpie:as did with you and your child, the alienation started so long ago I can barely remember. Small, seemingly insignificant actions: subtly undermining me as a mother, devaluing my extended family, it was all so under the surface I know that then like now I was cognizent of it then but of course any attempts to discuss the situation with contempt, belittlement, shaming and gaslighting.
    My daughter is now 25 and other than requests/demands from the trust that my family left for her education, has little to nothing to do with me.
    The most innocuous and loving of notes, cards, letters, texts, whatever are met with contempt and disdain, and perhaps most alarmingly, a sense of distrust bordering on paranoia. While I know in my heart this is a way of distancing/learned rejection, for me the bottom line is: this young woman is 25 years+. She behaves even in public like a snarky twelve year old; my soon to be stepdaughters, twins aged 18, are convinced she must be mentally ill. I’ve known these girls for years, in good and bad times, but they simply don’t understand my daughter’s complete devaluation of me and my entire extended family. My daughter has rejected all of my pretty close-knit extended family, all of my friends, it is so sad for her. Her father is only 60 years old, but due to his repeated terminations from professional positions finds himself unable to find work appropriate to his level of education and experience (he disregards the shameful and public terminations due to misappropriation of funds, repeated affairs (read: sexual harassment) of the women who reported to him, his consistent lack of presence in his own office—what was he doing there, where was he?; he now works the greeting area at the local Home Depot. Even worse, he broadcasts his shame about this so that our daughter expresses embarrassment while in truth, he is fortunate to have any sort of employment whatsoever.
    But enough about my daughter’s so called bad behavior, because it’s really about her, not about me. Nonetheless, I have hope for the future that there will be a greater understanding of these painful losses in the future, and hope for the childrens’ recovery.
    Even though I’ve been through years of grieving and nearly unbearable loss, I am certain it’s nothing compared to the harm done to my daughter. I see the lack of feeling in her relationships, the social/interpersonal inadequacy that she’s so ashamed of, and only wish we could rewind time to the day when she was a young teen and her father said to me ‘you will never see your child again.’
    i wish I could be more active, I wish I’d done a thousand things differently in the past, and I certainly wish no parent and no child needs to endure this kind of abuse. It’s simply unnecessary, unkind, and in my opinion, a playing out of the pathology of the marriage only with the child as pawn.
    I offer my daughter help and support and of course love but I will not accept abuse. As I’ve said more than once to her, ‘f–ing c—‘s don’t: go out of their way to drive their children long distances simply because the other parent chooses not to; they don’t offer extravagant gifts at holidays or birthdays, and though they may choose to contribute liberally to the education fund; they do not accept unacceptable behavior in public or privately.


  3. Thank-you for this blog. I have extracted this quote from the text because I wish to talk about my role and area of interest.

    “All of the boys withdrew from their father over a period of ten to 20 months post separation. The girls withdrew over a period of between 0 and 16 months. One of the girls was not able to ever establish a relationship with her father that was separate from her mother”.

    It is my purpose to prevent the onset of parental alienation. In a previous blog I was intrigued to hear you talk about the “family dynamic”.

    Many of us who come to read your account are or have been parents who have suffered the estrangement or loss of their children. We feel perhaps that we are powerless to prevent the loss and alienation of our children. We experience a psychological battering from our former partner to the extent that we believe there is nothing we can do about it. Through self-analysis we have come to the conclusion that our former partner is either wicked, ill or a combination of the two and our focus is drawn to their bad behaviours. The common remedy for which would be to assign treatment for the alienatior, which he/she in turn is unwilling to accept.

    We feel misunderstood to the extent that we blame society for not only it’s function but also for it’s criticism of us. In essence we feel vulnerable, angry, sad, innocent and powerless; like a child in a storm. Such pain and anguish seems relentless and unforgiving.

    I have it in my head a thought that there are essentially 3 players in the psychological dance that describes the behaviours of mother, father and child/children. Each player can and does effect the behaviours of the others. e.g. if child shouts at father this has an emotional effect on father, child and mother. If mother denigrates father in front of child then this has an effect on child, mother and father.

    In any relationship if one of the adults starts to predominate in significant decision making, the others in the triangle become gradually more submissive. The children are put in the position of making choices as to which adult they follow or preferentially align to. (they may not want to but the forceful self-righteous nature of one parent or the meekness and procrastinating nature of the other will begin to distort the allegiance of the child).

    Eventually the more submissive parent gets kicked out by the controlling parent, or moves out and the children are forced into making choices about which parent is right or where they feel safest. This is usually the parent who is calling most of the shots. They will already have established a set of rules which puts them at the top of the tree.

    In essence the normal mother/father relationship where problems are resolved through mutual consent, agreement and respect are absent.

    In our 3-way triangle we begin to see one adult taking over all decision making and the children almost exclusively obedient. In the absence of the adult who no longer lives in the same house the child may begin to take on the role of the absent parent. This may be in the form of both physical and emotional tasks organised by the parent now in exclusive charge.


    In my work I come across parents who are at various stages over the 20 month period you talk about in which alienation of the children is taking place. I mainly see “target parents” because it is they that are experiencing the gradual loss of their children. I try to equip them with the tools that will help them regain their correct status as parent to their children. (I am indebted to you for your help in this matter with such gems as the concept of “Dandlebear Bridge”). In this 3-way triangle that I talk about I try to lift the target parent from a point where they have been dislodged (i.e. from a “child” that is disapproved of by the other parent to a fully functioning and refurbished “parent”).

    I only wish that more help be directed in this area of need before separated families reach the entrenched state where alienation has taken its’ toll; a net result of splitting and distorting allegiances.

    Kind regards


    1. I can see the way the ‘triangle’ effect works anonymous. A gradual downgrading of the alienated parent by the alienating parent. The gradual drip of disapproval of one parent by the other. For example in my son’s case, mum wants him ‘out of her life’. She does not wish to communicate in any way, or pick up the children from his house. This disdain of dad is communicated to the children. They are aware that somehow dad is beneath mum’s contempt. There may be open or overt criticisms of dad’s parenting from time to time, for example when a gift was given to the eldest recently he responded by saying you don’t have to buy me. The gift was given with love. When there are certain evening events at the school held on mum’s night, no mention is made of them or how the children got on. If they occur on dad’s night, dad is told the children will be late due to a school event. No further information is given. Instead of texting information adult to adult, messages are passed via the younger child, who comes in straight from school, gets the message of his chest straight away (especially if it is obstructive), and once he has delivered the message he can relax for the rest of the evening. False information is fed, particularly to my alienated grandson, that ‘dad will stand in your way’, and ‘dad wont accept you don’t want to visit his home’. This after living with dad via a shared residence order for nearly eight years. The children have always been told they have two homes, one with mum and one with dad, and always will have. There is no doubt the boys love their mum, as it should be, but she seems to be the one with the power and the children can sometimes be a bit wary of her.


  4. How does child abuse (other than the alienation) play a role? Would you try to reestablish a connection between a child and a severely abusive parent?


    1. No of course not, that would be entirely against the philosophical core of what we do which is to enable children to have healthy relationships with healthy parents. Sometimes we have to help children to understand why they cannot have a relationship with an abusive parents, their drive is always to have a relationship with a parent whether they are abusive or not – the only circumstance in which we see a child refusing or ‘choosing’ to lose a parent is when they are alienated.


    2. Had you defined, specifically, what you mean by “child abuse” I suspect you could have answered your own question. It’s sounds a bit like the ‘worn-out’ old reply to the question of whether it’s appropriate to alienate a parent…….where the discussion is hijacked by the alienators referring to the 1-5% of targeted parents who ARE dangerous rather than the 95-99% who (along with their children) have been abused by the alienator

      The fact you felt the need to ask that question speaks volumes about your “agenda”


  5. Very accurate piece

    There’s a woeful lack of advice support for targeted parents because of (1) little or no genuine political will, (2) little or no desire, on the part of the various professionals to do the right thing and (3) a widespread lack of competence amongst those professions (mostly their status’ and financial rewards take priority over the lives of the children and, by extension, the targeted parent


  6. John had been on the receiving end of bad stuff for as long as he could remember. Much as he tried to placate his partner through gifts and concerned attention, doting obedience his partner somehow never seemed satisfied.

    It seemed inevitable that one day they would part. He knew that the situation was unhealthy for him and the children. He had been told in no uncertain terms that should he and his partner separate she was having the kids. Many years later he recalled the exact time and place that this seemingly earth shattering news had left his partner’s lips.

    Up until this moment he had never considered the children being a commodity that would be treated as chattels.

    John was thinking quite differently. He was concerned about his partners behaviour and on account of not understanding he was of the opinion that there was something wrong with her and he began to search for medical advices.

    The question seemed to be how was he going to get his former partner to accept her medicine. The prescription seemed aptly appropriate. The packaging was a soothing blue. The label read pills to be taken twice per day at meal times. Then there was the special instructions which contained useful information such as contra-indicators and side-effects of which there were many.

    Keep out of reach and sight of children appeared in bold.

    If he could convince the social services and expert medical team of the need, then perhaps they could prove her incapacity to make decisions for herself and then organise covert methods that would ensure his former partner received her dose of medicine. The thoughtful pharmaceutical company had also manufactured a balm that could be rubbed into the forehead; somehow John knew that he would never be allowed to do such a thing.

    The days ticked by and John seemed to be falling further and further away from where he wanted to be in the bosom of his family.

    John had been told that the pills he had requested were not available on the NHS and could only be located in America where DMS were the only known providers. They were reputed to be of dubious quality and were similar to the mood stabilisers prescribed for numerous other mental health issues for which no known cure had been thought of. It was said that they were having difficulties defining the problem and that it would be inappropriate to find a solution in such circumstances.

    From a distance, John watched Simon as he collected his children from Primary school. John felt a tinge of envy. He noticed that at first his children seemed unsure of themselves, they were casting their eyes away from their father as if to check that mother wasn’t lurking somewhere in the bushes. When the coast was clear Dad received a big hug. Dad had something in his hand, one for each child. Before leaving Simon just had time to wave to Mrs Baker and congratulate Mr Bartholomew on his football teams excellent performance last Wednesday.

    Kind regards


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