Despite years researching and treating this topic, I find it to be poorly understood but extremely destructive both to parents and to children of divorce. Parents who have lost their child through alienation have sometimes described it as worse than the death of their child because, for the parent, it is an unresolved loss.

Early discussions of divorce-related hostilities that affect children tended to label the mother as alienating the child against the father. However, I have seen both mothers and fathers indulge in parental alienation. I, therefore, prefer to discuss a gender-neutral divorce-related hostility that victimizes both adults and children and is caused by malicious behaviors by either the mother or the father.

The Job of the Alienated Parent: One of the most difficult you will ever undertake. Your child may have it all wrong. She may have been taken in by the alienating parent. But if your child has adopted the other parent’s point of view, you will do well to remember two ‘Don’ts’.

1. Don’t argue with your child or try to prove that you are really innocent and that you have been wronged, or that your child has been misled.
2. Don’t respond by badmouthing the alienating parent.

It may stick in your craw, but the fact is that your child has come to believe that in some way you have been negligent or bad. Even though he may have it wrong, your child has come to see you in a negative light and the other parent as the more trustworthy, more loving parent. This hurts you terribly. But if you argue your case, you will be challenging your child’s ‘world view’ of the family. Such challenges are likely to be threatening to the child. They threaten to turn the child’s beliefs about who is good and who is bad topsy turvey. While this may seem like a desirable goal to you, it is not desirable in the here and now for your child. It is threatening, and you will lose. So, don’t do it

Be understanding of your child. Accept your child… for thinking whatever he or she believes. As difficult as it is, showing your children you are interested in them is preferred to exhorting them to change their beliefs.

Your child is in a morally difficult position. After perhaps years of rejecting you as ‘bad’ and as a parent deserving of abandonment or neglect, it is a hard thing for the child to re-evaluate the intricacies of a hardened belief system. It is especially difficult for your child to now see him or herself as having hurt an innocent parent so terribly and for so long. For children to confront themselves with the idea that they have been unfair and even horrible to someone who is undeserving of such treatment carries a painful moral burden. It means the child has injured someone undeservingly. It would mean to the child that the child has been ‘bad’.

The conscience of human beings is such that it is sometimes easier to hold onto an old, unhealthy belief than to formulate a new and healthy one. The consequence of the child’s old belief is that the child has been justified in the rejecting behavior. The consequence of a new belief would be that the child had hurt a parent who did not deserve such treatment. The child’s sense of guilt for having mistreated a relatively innocent parent can act as a powerful force in maintaining the old belief system.

However, as is sometimes the case, the child may come to appreciate that he or she has been misled into rejecting the targeted parent. Even then, the child may, at best, simply desire to reconcile with the formerly rejected parent without apologizing or ever discussing what had happened in the past. Some children who reconcile with a formerly alienated parent never talk about how it had happened. No apology, no discussion. The child may simply want to re-unite. I appreciate, that from a formerly targeted parent’s viewpoint, such a re-unification may leave the parent unfulfilled, hurt and disappointed.

In sum, here is Dr. Les’ advice. Don’t challenge your child’s rejecting, alienating behavior toward you. Be quietly sympathetic to your child’s position. Your children have been indoctrinated, perhaps over a period of years – perhaps for long years even before the divorce started. They may have been subtly taught that the alienating parent is good and you were negligent or worse. Understand how difficult it is for children to have two parents with viewpoints at such great odds with each other. Don’t argue with your children about how wrong they are. This can be one of the hardest jobs a targeted parent may ever undertake, the job of not defending one’s self. Recognize that the child has a separate experience from that of your own.

In my experience, the indoctrination of children in cases of parental alienation started long before the divorce. Alienating parents, like the classic physical abuser of a spouse, can put on a show to the world for years. They can seem like pillars of the community. And in the case of parental alienation, the alienator may have put on quite a show for a long time, presenting her or himself to their children as loving parents while subtly undermining the targeted parent. Truly loving parents generally do not need to destroy their child’s relationship with the other parent – even with divorce. Nor do truly loving parents need to destroy their children’s relationship with the other parent’s family – the uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents.

My advice is hard for alienated parents to follow. But the best way to fight is to remain steadfast in being interested in your children and listening to them. Making sympathetic sounds is better than challenging the child’s beliefs about who her or his parents are. Remember, hopeless as it may seem, all is not necessarily lost. Your children’s experience is not of their dad or their mom being a jerk and lying to the court or not parenting correctly. Their experience is that of being a child who had two parents. They don’t want to hear ugly stories that may have taken place.

Instead of focusing on the loss, the alienated parent needs to stay strong, forgive their children, and reach out to their children periodically to let them know they love their children. In the meantime, learn all you can about parental alienation. Seek professional help from someone knowledgeable and experienced in this difficult area. Further information can be found at the website for the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization.

However, because of the nature of the relationship, the task of the alienated parent is a hard one. The child will naturally listen to the preferred parent. To induce a child to align with one parent and alienate the other parent is most certainly emotional abuse (assuming there is no domestic violence, abuse, or neglect). Children need both parents. Parental Alienation is the brainwashing of a child. It is meeting the needs of the alienating parent at the expense of the child and of the targeted parent. Alienating parents may not set out to damage their children; but parental alienation does just that. Being alienated from a parent with whom a child once had a loving relationship deprives the child, perhaps for life, of one of the most important emotional needs children, even adult children, have – to be loved and cared for by parents.

As an aid in understanding this difficult to comprehend and fascinating phenomenon, you may view my YouTube videos on the topic by visiting my website at

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Linet received his medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is board certified in both adult and child psychiatry and has practiced for over 30 years. In the past, he held faculty positions as Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Cornell Medical College and also at the State University of New York, Health Sciences Center at Brooklyn. Dr. Linet completed his residency in psychiatry at the State University of New York, Health Sciences Center at Brooklyn, where he later also completed a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry. Subsequently, Dr. Linet was in charge of medical student education in child psychiatry at the State University medical school and later worked as Medical and Psychiatric Director of a residential treatment center for severely disturbed children and adolescents. Dr. Linet is comfortable using psychotherapy and psychopharmacology. He has expertise treating anxiety, depression and disruptive/acting out behavior - whether caused by psychological problems, ADHD, bipolar or other mood disorders. He wrote "Bipolar Disorder without Mania" and "The Search for Stimulation: Understanding ADHD," links to which can be found at Dr. Linet appeared on television programs featuring OCD and Tourette Syndrome. Internet links to various of his webcasts can be found on He is one of approximately 2000 physicians with a federal waiver to prescribe buprenorphine for narcotic addiction. He also counsels families and patients in handling substance abuse.