When your children are turned against you

In some high-conflict separation situations, one parent may try to turn their children against the other parent.

When children are pressured to reject a parent, they are placed in a situation where they must view one parent as all bad and one parent as all good. This leaves no space for the children to love both parents. Given that children view themselves as half one parent and half the other, the end result is that the children are forced to reject a part of themselves.

Professionals have different terms they use to describe this behaviour, for example, parent alienation, parental alienation syndrome or simply alienation. Whichever term is used, the situation is highly upsetting for all involved. If you feel this is happening to you, you should seek professional help, such as good legal representation or other professional help, like counselling, if necessary.

It is important to note that there are many reasons why children may choose to distance themselves from a parent. A parent who has engaged in destructive or hurtful behaviours may be responsible for compromising their relationship with their children. When a parent has behaved badly and does not take responsibility for inappropriate behaviour, children may choose to distance themselves from that parent.

If your children do not want to spend time with you, before assuming that the other parent is responsible, it is important for you to consider other factors that may have contributed to the problem.

Hostile aggressive parenting

Hostile aggressive parenting (HAP) is another term used to define the inappropriate actions and behaviours of a parent. It is most often seen in high-conflict situations where an adult has not been able to move beyond their own hurt and pain regarding the separation or divorce. As a result, that parent uses the children to manipulate, control or seek revenge on the other parent.

Hostile aggressive parents are unable to acknowledge the needs of their children. They view children as belonging exclusively to them and are incapable of seeing the damage they are inflicting. While HAP greatly interferes with the development of a healthy parent–child relationship, it does not always result in children rejecting one of their parents.

Hostile aggressive parenting can also extend beyond the parent–child relationship to include other significant adults in a child’s life, such as grandparents, new partners or step-parents.

Although there is significant debate within the family court system and amongst childcare professionals over how these situations should be handled, it is important for parents to understand the dynamics of these high-conflict situations and how they may potentially impact the parent–child relationship. 

Read our tips for parenting during these challenging situations.