Coping Strategies for Alienated Parents

A coping strategy is a plan for dealing with what is happening to you over a period of time.

Approaching the problem of alienation requires you to build multi layered strategies which you will operate sometimes simultaneously sometimes and individually at others. The strategies for coping emotionally and psychologically are covered in this chapter. The practical strategies are covered in chapter seven.

Some of these strategies are needed only for a short time, some bring you to a place of awareness and others help you to work with professionals and the family courts. In our experience it is not possible to avoid building these strategies because if you do you will simply find yourself drowning in the impact of what is happening. Also, it is very important to remember that alienating parents often have a very clear strategy which they adopt to ensure that you are erased from your child’s life. Whilst they may not sit down and plan it out as clearly as we are going to plan out your counter strategy, they are usually skilled at knowing what they want to achieve and how to use people to achieve it. Some are so skilled that they can run all of their alienating strategies all at the same time, hitting you with the child’s rejection, their ability to convince professionals that this is not them it is you and at the same time appearing to co-operative perfectly with everything that is being asked of them. Behind the scenes however, these people are also planning sub plots and sub strategies to deepen the impact of the alienating behaviour in the child all while they keep pointing the finger at you.

Coping with your child’s behaviours

A child who is severely alienated will show distinct signs but these may not be easily understood if you are not aware of what an alienation reaction looks like. Therefore, it is useful to take a closer look at how children behave when they are developing an alienation reaction and how this behaviour changes as they move into being severely alienated from you.

A child who is severely alienated may cause you to feel a large amount of anxiety, they may also cause you to feel frustrated, disgusted, angry and desperately sad all at the same time. This is because they appear to you to be very far away from the child that they once were. They may seem as if they have arrived from another planet.

Alienated children and teenager behaviour

The best way to describe the change in a child who is alienated is to encourage you to think about how teenagers behave. Think about the stereotypical teenager, depicted in books and magazines and on the TV as turning overnight from an angelic loving child to a sullen, withdrawn and rude monster. This is the kind of change which is reported by parents whose children have become severely alienated. Their children appear to have suddenly disappeared and been replaced by alien children from another planet.

Understanding what has happened to your child is important if you are to avoid making things much worse at this stage. When children are alienated against you, so much of what you do can be used to heighten the reaction in the child by the other parent. Understanding the reaction, how it happens and what you can do to reduce it, is part of the longer term strategy that you are going to need to build.

The purpose of being a teenager is to break away from parents, to experiment with independence and to build a strong sense of being a sovereign individual in the world. This is why teenagers appear to have morphed into someone else, it is because they are busy with the physical, mental, emotional and psychological tasks of separation from their parents. For a time they can appear to be alienated against their parents too, although on closer inspection the eight signs of alienation are not present (unless they are involved in an actual alienation situation, in which case all of the behavioural issues seen in teenagers are heightened alongside the eight signs being present).

The reason that alienated children appear to be so similar to teenagers is because their psychological responses and understanding of the world have been corrupted by the information they have been given by the alienating parent. This has propelled them into a psychological space in which they have been taught to believe that they have the right to challenge their parent. Alongside this, the hierarchy of authority has been actively undermined and broken by the alienating parent, which means that the child no longer sees the parent they have rejected as someone for whom they should have respect or care for. This increases the child’s sense of entitlement to act in any way that they please.

Alienated children therefore be rude, obnoxious, cruel, dismissive angry, sullen, withdrawn, silent and more. They can erupt into furies of self righteous indignation if they are made to do something (such as spend time with you) and they can be increasingly unpredictable in their moods and resistance. Whilst this behaviour is similar to that seen in some teenagers, the difference is that the alienated child will maintain this response without any reprieve and will not show any signs of guilt, shame, fear or sorrow for their actions. Whilst teenagers can act in all of the ways listed above, they still have access to the other side of those feelings and will often show great remorse for their outbursts. In alienated children this remorse is missing, replaced instead by a cold defiance or a self righteousness which can at times appear haughty, cold and distanced. Sometimes, under pressure, or conversely, if they are relieved of the pressure of the alienating parent’s influence for long enough, alienated children will suddenly appear quite different, almost normal again. This can be an alarming phenomenon to observe and can convince parents that their child has a mental health problem, especially when the alienation reaction appears again and the child withdraws back into the rejecting stance. Some parents find this changing behaviour so worrying that they go to great lengths to find out what is wrong with their child, often in doing so, inadvertently adding to the belief in the child that they are right in their beliefs about their parent. Some parents take their children to psychiatrists or psychologists and locate the problems that they see in the child. This is very problematic for the child and parent because it encourages the child to feel that they are being blamed by the parent and gives ammunition to the other parent for further opportunities to encourage the child to reject.

Timeline of descent into alienation

The following is a timeline which roughly describes how a child’s behaviour deteriorates into a full alienation reaction.

Early signs – resisting at handovers, not wanting to go back after a happy period of time with you. Child cries and clings and says they do not want to go back.

Mid term signs – The child is strongly resistant to coming to you, they may tell the other parent they are not going to see you and this may be conveyed to you in advance. They may make allegations against you or say that time with you is boring and makes them unhappy. Child is withdrawn and sullen when arriving in your care and cold and distant for periods of up to one to eight hours depending upon the length of the time they are due to spend with you. Child may warm up and become normal midway through the time they spend with you but close down and become angry and distant at the end of that time.

End signs – Child is strongly resistant and may not always achieve transition. When child does achieve transition may be cold, rude, obnoxious, attempt to run away, may swear, be angry and rejecting, say horrible things to you. Child may return to normal for periods and say inexplicable things such as ‘I love you daddy’ or ‘I really do like you you know’ these are signs of the child swinging between splitting into good and bad feelings and struggling with feelings of guilt and shame about their behaviour. Child may flip back into unpleasant and vicious behaviour and will immediately do so when the alienating parent is nearby.

Alienation in full – Child refuses to see you, the signs of alienation are all present, child is making things up about you, false allegations may be made, child is phobic, angry and rejecting. Child is in full hostile coalition with the alienating parent.

Helping the child – A Manifesto for Managing

Remember that children who challenge you are angry, but not necessarily with you.

When children are at risk of alienation from you and showing challenging behaviour it is important that you do not engage with their angry feelings.

Alienated children are looking for excuses to justify their rejection of you, don’t give them any.

Develop a very thick skin, do not feel crushed by your children’s behaviour.

Get into the habit of seeing children who inflict pain upon you as being victims, they are not behaving in ways that are under their control.

Do not allow children to call you by your first name, encourage at all times the use of mum or dad.

Avoid getting drawn into debates about why children are challenging you, ignore them when they try to start these kind of discussions and concentrate upon doing something else instead.

Make sure your children experience you in the company of others who respect you, observing you with people who feel positively about you will challenge your children’s negative feelings.

If a child begins to argue with you, acknowledge their discomfort and move on to another activity, do not give the argument any attention.

Exercise restraint, do not try to talk sense into children, or criticise them.

When you are doing something together and the children have relaxed again with you, comment on the good time you are having together, bring up memories of times you shared together.

Re-inforce positive experiences together by summarising them.

Build empathic listening skills, learning to name children’s feelings helps to show them that you understand how they feel.

Let the children overhear you speaking to someone else about them, all children eavesdrop, allowing them to hear you speaking positively and lovingly about them will encourage their self esteem to grow and stimulate positive feelings for you.

Build positive bridges to the past by looking at photographs, films, favourite story books.

Separate out your relationship with each of your children, particularly if one child is influencing the other.

Don’t dismiss their feelings, acknowledge them briefly if they are negative towards you, share them and amplify them if they are positive.

Don’t over react if children tell you something about their other parent, all children of separated parents will select things to tell each parent about the other at some point.

More on coping strategies in Chapter Five of our Handbook for Parents and Professionals which will be available shortly.

Coaching and support services for alienated parents are available from the Family Separation Clinic

Our retreat for alienated parents will be held in September in a location near to London, full booking details will be released shortly.

More on a brand new service for alienated parents and their children coming here soon.





  1. Thanks for all those pointers and indicators. It helps to focus on healthy interactions that keeps the family functioning well post-separation.

    Co-parenting post separation.

    Helping parents cope with the rage from within.

    When the stakes are high and we realise we could be losing our children to the other half it is understandable that we we feel angry, anxious, nervous, impetuous and just generally and justifiably pissed off. These are all natural feelings.

    Our behaviours are affected by these feelings. For example our shoutiness on the phone and our sleepless nights, our desire to be left alone in social settings. Jack had great difficulty keeping the car going in a straight line when he saw his ex walking down the footpath. He was sorely tempted. All he could see was someone determined to ruin his life. He gripped the steering wheel tighter and drove on ramming his right foot to the floor, like a mad thing, shouting and ranting as he did so.

    It would be impossible to purge ourselves of all anger and it would not be of benefit to do so. Without anger we may not be able to deter would be assailants. Without anger we may not feel the adrenalin rush that helps us turn tail and run for our lives. Without anger we may not provide ourselves with the impetus to do good deeds by way of correction. Without anger we may not experience the wrath of injustice in a way that helps us interpret life from our very own perspective. Anger cements our identity and motivates us and just like sadness is a true and natural part of our life experience.

    What if we could control our anger? wheel it out on high days and holidays.
    Of course there is literature out there that will help us do this. We may be writing our very own anger control log, discovering “triggers” and becoming generally more self-aware of our feelings and behaviours.

    I don’t believe that we are all instinctively blessed with the power to empathise. When we are aggrieved and angry we tend to focus on our very own sense of justice and a strong desire to impinge this on others. Anger can be an impediment to a good co-parenting lifestyle if you let it consume you.

    George was furious that his son was behaving just like his mother. Wasn’t this the very same woman who had stopped him seeing his son on his Birthday and here he was, bold as brass, reiterating the same kind of nonsense, even mimicking similar mannerisms, the flick of the hair and the turned up nose.

    It was the fury within George that made him start to denounce his Ex to his son. His son became even more indignant and George feared his son was becoming a clone of his ex. After much slamming of doors and ill-tempered words his son shut himself in his room and George, all alone in the kitchen, began to cry. He could not see any further ahead than the futility and madness of his situation.

    George was a sad, forlorn and crumpled figure of a man a piteous figure slumped to the floor beneath the knife drawer. The bin lid was open because he had forgotten to put it out the other night. Thursdays had been one of those nightmarish evenings and he had completely forgotten about the day to day household chores. Poking out from under the lid was another of those books that he had received through the post that he just hadn’t had the time nor the inclination to read. He pushed the rotten cabbage leaf aside and turned to page 99 Ex. 5.3 and began to read about “co-parenting with a toxic Ex”. This would prove to be George’s first realisation that empowerment over his situation was possible and desirable.

    Kind regards


  2. It was only two days ago that Julian had attended an appeals meeting in an attempt to reverse a decision that had been made in a previous grievance meeting. One that had not gone in his favour.

    However, unlike his court case nine years previously where he had been steamrollered into accepting whatever morsels the judiciary saw fit to pass his way, this time Julian was better prepared. Although he was anxious about the outcome of today’s meeting he was a lot more confident than he had been nine years ago standing outside the portals of family justice.

    This time he knew the facts of the case. He knew how he was going to undermine the opposition and make them look silly. He had prepared evidence in the form of letters, maps and calculations. Every page was numbered and could be easily referenced. Three copies of everything were made. One set for the bosses another for the union man and a third for himself. He had practically scripted the whole proceedings. He had a large flip-chart, which on the day, he boldly assembled in front of his audience. He had different coloured pens of various colours and thickness’s.

    The opposition were cool calm and collected behaving as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. They began to trot out the sanctimonious condescending nonsense that only those used to exerting their authority and getting their way can.

    But Julian, on this day, was not a man to be distracted. He insisted that all pay attention to his itemised presentation; and then launched into his account of events. He did have to stop occasionally because the bosses were trying to take control by distracting Julian away from his prepared speech. Fortunately Julian knew his subject well, better than they did. He had read the company policy and was convinced of his own interpretation.

    At times Julian was quite rude and dismissive but he was fortunate in having his union man by his side who would intervene with softer spoken words that described Julian’s train of thought.

    Julian got what he wanted. The bosses could hardly get a word in edge ways and when they did Julian seemed to have smart answers at the ready.

    Alone in the car park Julian was relieved and exhausted. He allowed himself a tear or two, not because of what had happened that day but because of what didn’t happen when he went to court nine years ago. Confidence, preparation, knowledge, self-belief, assertiveness, these were all things that had been in short supply when he had been fighting for the right to continue parenting his children.

    It was different back then. He was a broken man. He thought the photographs of him and his children would be enough to convince the powers that be that he had a role in his children’s lives. Sadly that had not been the case.

    Kind regards


  3. Because Julian’s story is live and ongoing I have written this short addition which brings us up to date.

    Julian was delighted to receive an email from his union man who invited him to put his name forward as “shop steward” for the company. Julian reflected on how he had managed to endear himself to such an extent that he found himself being valued, at least recognised and admired. He was a bonafide person with skills and personality traits that were of benefit to mankind. He continued to dream, “I might even be sought after or head-hunted”.

    Pleased as punch he was. Back at work he moved about the place with renewed energy satisfied that what he said and did was important not only mattering to himself but others as well. He felt respected by his co-workers and began to see himself as a team player and someone to whom others might come for his opinion.

    “Well done Julian” he said to himself, metaphorically patting himself on the back.

    Kind regards


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s