Parental alienation syndrome

Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is believed to occur most often within the context of family separation, particularly when relationships are conflictive.
Parental alienation syndrome

Parental alienation syndrome is a childhood disorder that affects children of separated parents, particularly when legal proceedings are involved to decide the physical or legal custody of the child. Some authors define it as a distinctive suite of behaviours in children when one parent attempts to discredit or impede the child's relationship with the other parent.

What happens to the children when a marriage breaks up?

The relationship breaks down and the shared project comes to an end. We decided to divorce and our children are now children of separated parents.

When a separation occurs and parents take the healthy decision to end the relationship, the home situation could remain relatively normal, despite the difficulties facing all members of the family when adapting to the separation and the consequences of the decision.

Divorce rates have increased enormously in recent years and often, separation can be an act of war, with intense conflict between the parents, and sometimes involving the children. Children in this situation are subject to enormous pressure. They find themselves caught in the middle of the conflict between their parents, where one parent may even attempt to alienate the other. 

How one parent can alienate the other

Examples of alienation by one parent of the other parent can be:

  • a campaign of denigration: A parent carries out actions to discredit, offend, criticize or blaspheme. Some daily situations that can occur are: not passing phone calls to the children or holding back parcels or gifts sent by the other parent.
  • Weak, frivolous, and absurd rationalizations for the deprecation: this happens when one parent insults the other in front of the children, degrading and devaluing them.
  • The “independent thinker” phenomenon: when a parent decides to take important decisions on his/her own, without consulting the other, but where the child insists that he has arrived at the decision himself.
  • Spread of animosity to the extended family or friends: seeking allies in the social or family environment to reject the other parent.

The impact of parental alienation syndrome on young children

Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) gives rise to a set of symptoms in children suffering from a conflictive family breakdown. It is important to be alert to the possible presence PAS or detect difficulties for children suffering from this type of situation, such as fears, separation anxiety, etc.

Some of the most common disorders described in children suffering from PAS are:

  • Anxiety disorders: caused by difficulty in adapting, for example, to visiting arrangements or to moving home.
  • Sleep and/or eating disorders: in very young children, bedwetting or soiling may occur. Older children may develop eating disorders, such as sudden aversion to certain foods or even risky behaviours, such as prolonged fasting.
  • Behavioural disorders: behavioural disorders are common, especially defiant behaviour, where children manifest aggressive and avoidance behaviours, both at school and at home.
  • Affective disorders, such as emotional dependence: children often fear being abandoned or that the love they receive from one parent must be approved by the other parent.

Given the seriousness of this syndrome, we should be aware of the need to seek help if necessary. Trained professionals can offer useful advice and guidelines to reduce the degree of conflict and alienation, especially to ensure that children are not exposed to conflict or are forced to take sides in their parents' arguments. And, above all, it is important to evaluate the need for parents and children to receive psychological support during and after the separation.