Guidelines for 'Parental Alienation Syndrome' Dr Kirk Weir - Consultant Child, Adolescent and Family Psychiatrist

1. Whereas parents believe that separation is for the best, most children would prefer that their parents were helped to resolve their problems. 
This conflict between the wishes of parent and child is heightened when parents seek ‘a fresh start’ by reducing proximity, contact and memories of a previous partner. Often a feature of High Conflict Contact Disputes (HCCDs).

2. The psychological effects of parental separation on children
Subject of considerable published research (e.g. Kelly, 2000) - fairly consistent in showing some adverse outcomes, though sufficient variability to make it difficult to generalise research findings to an individual case. 
Rates of psychosocial problems (behavioural and emotional disturbance, academic under-achievement, relationship difficulties) that are two to three times higher than children whose parents remain together.  Those children who are affected will continue to have difficulties in coping with people, work and society in adolescence and adulthood.  Despite this increased risk, 70 to 80% of children whose parents separate are not obviously disadvantaged, and a small proportion is advantaged – e.g. those relieved from serious domestic violence, abuse or neglect. 
Differences between children have a large effect on outcome - children who are already competent, sociable and intelligent are more able to cope with family breakdown. Individual resilience may play as big a part in determining outcome as anything else. 
Outcome for children varies according to the competence of the residential parent/carer (RP).  Some parents more competent once relieved of distress of an unhappy relationship; an unhappy and preoccupied single parent is less able to provide support, discipline, supervision and care than one unhappy spouse in a couple.

3. The psychological effects of parental conflict
When children witness hostility (particularly violence), or are aware they are the subjects of dispute, there are much higher rates of psychosocial disturbance.  When conflict continues following separation, the outcome is even worse than that for children exposed to chronic conflict between partners who remain together - these children are the most likely to be the subject of professional assessments in Private Law Court Proceedings.

4. The Effects of Continuing Conflict
(May be reversible as a result of development, changes, life experiences - the outcomes are widely variable) 
Younger children - increased levels of anxiety e.g. separation anxiety and reluctance to separate for contact.  In HCCDs some children become overtly distressed at handover from one parent to the other.  Although used as a reason for aborting a visit, observations of the same child may show that he/she is completely settled and happy in the care of the NRP once the handover period has passed.
Some - particularly boys - show increased levels of aggression and hostility, to members of family and others.  May be able to articulate this as anger caused by what is happening between parents.  Older children may be distrusting/disrespectful of adults - can lead to challenging behaviour and lack of respect for rules.
Some become preoccupied with pleasing adults - unduly attentive to adults and seem unable to relax.  May develop adult mannerisms/language/‘parental’ manner. Demeanour is displeasing to other children and may become isolated and unhappy. 
Some (aware that experiences in one or other household arouse strong emotion in the other), become secretive and uninformative in their communication with their parents.  Can lead to a distrust of close relationships.
Children, whose parents communicate poorly, may become manipulative and dishonest in their relationship with their parents, other adults and children.
Some children feel they are the cause of their parents’ hostility and experience guilt and self-blame. 
When parents are obviously hostile children may experience their love for one as disloyalty to the other. Older children more able to be objective but the conflict of loyalty may be so distressing that some decide to cease contact (see also ‘parental alienation’ below) for their own peace of mind. Secretly they may be biding their time until they are independent enough to cope with the conflict of loyalty. 

5. False Allegations
Hostile parents seeking evidence regarding failings of the other parent often question children, who may feel encouraged by the reaction that revelations cause, or pressurised by repeated and suggestive questioning.
As a result some children become prone to exaggerating, misrepresenting or fabricating events. In the absence of sufficient contact the continual denigration of one parent by the other can lead to a ‘negative stereotype’ and the ready formation of false beliefs. 
Children (especially younger) exposed to a combination of negative stereotyping, repeated suggestive questioning, a conflict of loyalty, and the emotional turmoil of family breakdown are particularly prone to making false allegations against the NRP (Kuehnle and Connell 2009). False allegations can be very serious (e.g. neglect, physical and s.exual abuse)

6. The Effects of Contact Following Parental Separation
Continuing good quality contact with a NRP who is supportive of the RP brings benefits.  Contact with a NRP who is rejecting, disengaged or deviant appears to make matters worse (e.g. Dunn, 2004). 

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