Children are the center of any custody battle – viewed by some parents as the most prized “possession.”
Parents who view custody of the children as a “must win” or “non-negotiable” often make the mistake of voicing the same to the children. Similarly, those parents often make derogatory or negative comments about the other parent in front of the child. This type of isolating behavior is often referred to as “Parental Alienation Syndrome.”
Parental Alienation Syndrome occurs when one parent attempts to distance a child from the other parent through negative comments and actions. This can include making derogatory or native statements about the other parent or preventing a child from spending adequate time with the other parent. The choice to do either can ultimately strain or destroy not only the relationship between the child and the parent being villainized, but also the relationship between the child and the parent who made the choice to make negative comments or withhold parenting time.
Regardless of what drives a parent to act this way, both parents must take appropriate steps to avoid negativity and encourage children to spend time with both parents. No child benefits from hearing negative comments, especially when it is a negative comment being made by one parent about the other parent. Additionally, no child benefits from being held back from spending time with one parent, unless a court has found there is reason to do so.
While the issue of custody generally leads to animosity between parents, the responsibility to nurture the relationship between parents and children cannot be disturbed. Neither speaking negatively of a parent to a child nor preventing a child from spending time with the other parent should occur. This is a basic rule that applies for all parents, extended family, and family friends. Failure to follow this very simple rule can produce negative effects on both the children and the parents. To set children up for the best future is to make sure children know they are loved, cherished, and supported, regardless of the result of custody.
For more information on Parental Alienation Syndrome, see Susan Heitler, Ph.D., Parental Alienation Syndrome: What Is It, and Who Does It?, Psychology Today (Feb. 1, 2018),