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Miss7Mama / 24sata.hr journalist Ana Dukić attended a lecture by Karen Woodall, Ph.D. and Nick Woodall “Understanding and Working with Children and Families Affected by Parental Alienation: Hearing the Authentic Voice of the Child and Interventing to Help Recovery” organized by Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center and the Association of Youth Judges, Family Judges and Child and Youth Experts on July 10th, 2019 in Zagreb. Here is her report:
”The lecture began with a minute of silence for the social worker Blaženka Poplašen killed at her workplace, followed by a speech by President of the Zagreb County Court’s Youth Department, Lana Petö Kujundžić, Ph.D. who emphasized the importance of understanding and making verdicts in favor of the child, that is, her desire not to think like a judge and not to give time to both parents, but to act when needed for the child. In addition, she emphasized her commitment for judges and lawyers to attend such lectures in order to come to the best decision.
Divorce harms children – a taboo sentence
An introduction to Karen and Nick Woodall’s lecture was made by the short film ‘Alienation’, in which a conversation was recorded with a mother from whom her child had been alienated and chose his father’s side. Karen Woodall, Ph.D. of the London Family Separation Clinic started the lecture with ”Divorce harms children” pointing out that until a few years ago in the UK, that sentence was taboo because many married couples had divorced. But she noted that there will always be divorce, but their impact on children needs to be reduced. “These are decisions made by adults, parents, with which children will be most affected by.”
Nick Woodall went on to explain the ”relationship triangle”: ”The child has a unique relationship with his mother, a unique relationship with his father, and the three of them as a family have another specific relationship. In a divorce, the child maintains a relationship with the mother and father, but their relationship as a family is lost, and often the child feels that it is up to him or her to maintain it.” A child, of course, can’t handle this kind of pressure so they often choose a side of one parent. ”Parental alienation is a pathological attachment to one parent”, explained Nick Woodall, adding, “It’s more an attachment to one parent than rejecting another.” The lecturers commented that love doesn’t play a role in choosing a parent but rather a fear of abandonment and the pressure that it will happen, therefore, the child chooses one parent to avoid potential abandonment by both.
Nick Woodall explained that a child’s rejection of one parent is “the most unnatural thing in the world” because parents are biologically programmed to care for their children, and the child feels fear and shame if they reject their parent. Why does a child decide to alienate from their parents? Fear of abandonment is strongly emphasized in this relationship, and the child will cling to the “more powerful” parent. “It is often the case that a child clings to, for example, a father who is abusive to his mother because they don’t want to experience their mother’s fate, so they choose their father’s side”, explained Nick Woodall.
The father is neither a substitute for the mother nor secondary in the child’s life
Parental alienation is a process and consequence of manipulation. Karen Woodall emphasized the problem of detecting parental alienation because sometimes seemingly loving parents, understanding, and role models to other parents, have actually used manipulation to reject the other parent. In addition, there are different degrees of alienation because each child is unique and thus the shape and intensity may be different. It is important to emphasize that alienation from parents is “the process and consequence of the psychological manipulation of the child”, in other words it is a type of “emotional abuse”. Alienated child is an abused child.
As stated above, it is unnatural for a child to alienate from their parents because fear and shame are involved. Therefore, the child’s reasons for rejection must be inappropriate and unrealistic for them not to feel shame and fear. For example, a child will justify the rejection of the parent because they didn’t like the way the meal was cooked or didn’t like the color of the walls in parent’s apartment. Alienated children describe one parent as perfect, and for the other parent they can’t find a single good trait. Alienated children show no guilt or sympathy for words and behavior towards the alienated parent.
Parental alienation strategies parents use according to Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center:
• excessive pleasing to the child – one parent allows what is not allowed by the other
• ignoring positive experiences with the other parent – the parent ignores positive experiences a child has with the other parent
• overemphasizing mistakes of the other parent – one parent makes a mistake and the other exaggerates it
• excessively interfering with the relationship between a child and the other parent – imposing their own rules when a child is with the other parent
• obstructing a child’s contact with the other parent – banning contacts or finding excuses for contact not to happen
• showing unpleasant emotions when a child is having a relationship with another parent – showing sadness, anger, fear, worry, whether in words or behavior
• sending unclear messages to your child – encouraging your child to meet the other parent while crying or showing other negative emotions
• negatively commenting on the other parent by falsely accusing him of abuse – saying that the parent beat him without it being true
• passively allowing other family members or friends to alienate a child – the parent doesn’t alienate himself but allows his family or friends to do so
• sharing inappropriate information with your child – about court proceedings, marital relationships, etc
• reversing the child-parent role – asking the child to care for the feelings of the parent
• replacing a biological parent with a new partner – insisting on calling the new partner ”mom” or ”dad”
• encouraging the child’s anger toward the other parent
• restricting communication between the child and the other parent
• withholding information about the child
• fostering feelings of guilt for the child if they have a good time with the other parent
• inability to separate themselves from the child – saying that the parent left “us” with divorce
Why is it important to work with an alienated child?
An alienated child is a child who is emotionally abused and can develop various mental illnesses. However, the problem of alienating a child from a parent can have long-lasting consequences, as Karen emphasized: ”A child who was alienated from one parent is more likely to become the parent whom their child will alienate in the future!” This is the very reason for understanding and preventing such manipulation.”