Parent-Child Alienation

Parent-Child Alienation has been conceptualized in many forms. Regardless of a particular diagnosis or theory, the deterioration of the parent-child bond is damaging to the emotional health of all parties involved.  Therapeutic interventions can reduce the impact of existing alienating behaviors and promote healing and more effective co-parenting.  Parents must be willing to acknowledge the impact they have on the choices their children make and be willing to make changes of their own.

Parents who have been alienated from their children may experience depression, anxiety, and feelings of loss when they are not allowed to effectively participate in their children's lives.  My work focuses on helping the victim parents identify alienating behaviors, learn how to appropriately respond to those behaviors, and promote the most positive relationship with themselves and their children as possible. 

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).  The concept of PAS was originated by Richard Gardner in 1980.  His work has been continued by Amy J. L. Baker.  In her pamphlet, I Don't Want to Choose (2009) she states, "Alienation from a parent occurs as a process on a continuum.  At its worst, it consists of 8 behaviors:

  1. denigration and rejection of the targeted parent,
  2. weak, frivolous or absurd reasons for the denigration,
  3. lack of ambivalence about the alienating parent,
  4. lack of guilt about the treatment of the targeted parent,
  5. automatic support for the alienating parent in any parental conflicts,
  6. use of borrowed ideas and language from the alienating parent,
  7. conviction that the denigration/rejection is wholly the child's idea with no influence from the alienating parent, and
  8. extension of the denigration/rejection to the friends and family of the targeted parent."

Parent-child alienation results in pressure on the child to choose one parent over the other.  This pressure can lead to feelings of abandonment, confusion, anxiety, and misdirected anger.  Parent-child alienation can happen any time, even when parents live in the same home.

Other conceptulizations of parent-child alienation include:

  • The Alienated Child: the child freely and persistently expresses unreasonable beliefs towards a parent. These beliefs have no resemblance of the child’s actual experiences with that parent. Refusal to visit a parent may be the result of a variety of other factors including the rejected parent’s parenting style, trauma from the conflict of the divorce, developmental issues, or the remarriage of a parent. The alienated child demonstrates many of the behaviors of PAS children. The alienated child is differentiated from a PAS child by the absence of a parent’s encouragement of the negative behaviors.
  • Threatened Mother Syndrome: the inappropriate/problematic behaviors of the parent (typically the mother) is not designed to alienate the child from the other parent, but to protect the existing primary attachment between the mother and child. TMS is episodic in nature, impulsive and reactive, uncharacteristic of the individual and the inappropriate behaviors will stop when the threat is gone. 
  • Divorce Related Malicious Parent Syndrome: unjustifiable punishment of the other parent; denying the other parent access to the children; pattern is pervasive and malicious; the behaviors are not specifically due to another mental disorder. Individuals portraying these attributes will not see their behavior as problematic, will demonstrate skill at manipulating others, and be excellent fabricators. DRMPS is viewed as alienating behavior beyond the severe form of PAS. DRMPS is differentiated from PAS by the absence of the corroboration of the child.


Andre, K. and Baker, A.J.L., 2009. I don’t want to choose. New York: Kindred Spirits
Kelly, J.B. & Johnston, J.R. (2001). The alienated child: A reformulation of parental alienation syndrome. Family Court Review, 39, 249-266.
Klass, J.L. & Klass, J.V. (2005). Threatened mother syndrome (TMS): A diverging concept of parental alienation syndrome (PAS). American Journal of Family Law, 18, 189-191.
Turkat, I.D. (1994). Child visitation interference in divorce. Clinical Psychology Review, 14, 737-742.

Other Resources:
Darnall, D. (1998). Divorce casualties, protecting your children from parental alienationLanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing.
Gardner, R.A. (1992). The parental alienation syndrome. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.
Neuman, M. G. & Romanowski, P. (1998). Helping your kids cope with divorce the sandcastles way.   New York: Times Books.
Warshak, R.A. ( 2001). Divorce Poison. New York: ReganBooks.