Parental Alienation Conference

Wednesday, February 3, 1999

Bob M is Bob McMillan, editor of our online magazine CCI Journal.
Dr. Douglas Darnall: author, psychologist and expert on Parental Alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome.
The people color-coded in green are audience members who had questions.

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Bob M: Good evening everyone. Thank you for coming tonight. The conference topic is: "Parental Alienation. What you need to know and what you can do about it." Dr. Douglas Darnall author of Divorce Casualties: Protecting your Children From Parental Alienation is our guest. Dr. Darnall is a licensed psychologist. Welcome to the Concerned Counseling website, Dr. Darnall. Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your expertise in the area of "parental alienation"?

Dr. Darnall: I have worked the last 16 years at Trumbull County court. I have conducted over 700 custody evaluations and have written my book from my experiences. I also do consultation for court cases.

Bob M: Just to clarify for everyone here, what is your definition of "Parental Alienation"?

Dr. Darnall: Parental alienation is any behaviors or conveyance of an attitude, whether conscious or unconscious, that evokes a disturbance in the relationship between a child and the other parent.

Bob M: Does this come up mostly during divorce situations or does it happen in a "normal" family relationship?

Dr. Darnall: For the most part, it happens in divorces or with couples who never married and are splitting up and are trying to jockey for a better position with their child. Parental alienation often starts before the couple separates and when one parent knows that they are going to leave the relationship.

Bob M: Why would someone want to engage in that sort of behavior?

Dr. Darnall: There are many reasons:

  1. They are angry and bitter.
  2. They are afraid of losing custody of the child.
  3. They may have paranoid delusions that cause them to be fearful of the ex.
  4. They are feeling protective of the child, without justification.

If a child is fearful of a parent because of actual abuse, that is not parental alienation.

Bob M: For those of you just coming into the room, welcome to our site. Our guest tonight is Dr. Douglas Darnall, author and psychologist. We are talking about "parental alienation". Dr. Darnall has written a book on the subject and we'll be giving you his website address later in the conference, as well as giving you the opportunity to ask him your personal questions in just a few minutes. I know that Dr. Richard Garner coined the term "Parental Alienation," but for whatever reason, there are some courts and other psychologists/professionals who don't believe it exists. One of the reasons, I believe, is because there wasn't any scientific research on the subject. Has that changed?

Dr. Darnall: Dr. Gardner coined the words "parental alienation syndrome". I am talking about "parental alienation". Parental Alienation Syndrome occurs when the child has been brainwashed and is an active participant in vilifying the targetted parent. Parental Alienation is the process that leads up to Parental Alienation Syndrome. To prevent Parental Alienation Syndrome you must begin by knowing how to prevent Parental Alienation. There are studies now being conducted on Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation. Courts are increasingly recognizing Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation. Most recently, the Vermont Supreme Court removed a child from the mother because of Parental Alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome. If anybody truly recognizes how one parent can vilify another parent during the divorce process, they cannot deny the existence of Parental Alienation.

Bob M: What are the symptoms the child experiences that lead to a designation of Parental Alienation?

Dr. Darnall: To understand the symptoms of Parental Alienation you need to look at the parents' behavior. To understand the symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome, you look at the child's behavior. The more common symptoms of Parental Alienation are:

  1. Interfering with visits.
  2. Making disparaging comments to the child about the other parent.
  3. Becoming excessively rigid with parenting time.
  4. Blaming the other parent in front of the child about not having enough money because of the divorce.
  5. Reminding the child of reasons why they should be angry at the other parent.
  6. Asking the child to spy or gather information for you.
  7. Asking the child about your ex-spouses personal life.
  8. Scheduling activities that interfere with visits.
  9. Suggesting to the child that the other parent is dangerous.
  10. And then making false allegations of abuse.

These are just a few of the more common symptoms of Parental Alienation.

Bob M: Dr. Douglas Darnall author of Divorce Casualties: Protecting your Children From Parental Alienation is our guest. Dr. Darnall is a licensed psychologist with many years experience in custody evaluations and family court. Here are a few audience questions, Dr. Darnall:

jusducky22: How hard is it to prove that a parent is alienating a child? The child I am specifically talking about is 12 years old.

Dr. Darnall: To begin with, it can be difficult unless the child is already showing symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome. If the parent is behaving similar to what I described above, you can assume that Parental Alienation is occurring. It must be remembered that usually both parents will get into an alienatiing cycle that must be stopped.

Bob E: Does the alienator not recognize the damage they are doing to the child?

Dr. Darnall: The obsessed alienator not only doesn't recognize the damage, but they believe they are saving the child from destruction. The naive and active alienator are not always aware of their alienating behavior, but once they become aware of their behavior they usually can control themselves. The purpose of my book is to educate parents on how to avoid alienating behavior.

Bob M: And that brings up an interesting question, what effect does Parental Alienation have on a child and does it depend on the age of the child?

Dr. Darnall: Children of different ages and personalities will react differently to Parental Alienation. Some children can brush it off or let it go in one ear and out the other, and with others it can cause tremendous emotional anguish. The children that it seems to hurt most are between 4 and 12.

Bob M: And how does it hurt those children?

Dr. Darnall: Children want to be unhampered in their expression of love to both parents. If they are, in effect, told that one parent is undesirable and unworthy of their love, this causes the child tremendous confusion and conflict. Children in high conflicts have poor esteem, are often depressed, and become very anxious when both parents are together in their presence. In other words, children exposed to highly conflicted parents will often have the symptoms described above. The group of kids that have been shown to have the greatest difficulty adjusting to divorce and alienation are boys during the latency (8-11) years. Older children and females tend to adjust better because they usually have more social supports and girls usually stay with their mothers while boys frequently lose much of their relationship with their father. Parental Alienation Syndrome children who have learned to hate the targetted parent will often live their life without the targetted parent's love and support. In fact, they often lose the whole extended family.

Bob M: There are fathers and mothers out there tonight, Dr. Darnall, who are reading this and I'm sure thinking and hoping, that when my child grows up, reaches 15-18, and even though I haven't seen the child, the child will come back to me...even after all this alienation. What are the chances of that happening?

Dr. Darnall: Yes, it does happen that the children return, but unfortunately there are too many examples when it doesn't happen. I can't give you a percentage of those children that will seek out the targeted parent, but usually this occurs after the child leaves the custodial home. If they are still in the custodial home, and the child displays symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome, the chances are less than 5% that the child will re-establish a relationship with the targeted parent. Remember, the child would have to be doing this behind the alienating parent's back. After they leave home, the odds improve. That is why understanding Parental Alienation is so a parent can prevent Parental Alienation Syndrome. As the courts become more knowledgeable and intervene sooner, the percentage should improve.

Bob M: And we are going to address the topic of prevention in just a few minutes. Here's an audience comment, then we have two related questions:

grandma Bebop: I run a support group, that is made up of half denied access grandparents and those raising grandchildren. We have experienced alienation, when our grandchildren are used as pawns for money, things or when we strongly disagree with the parent(s).

Rich1955: I am trying to convice the law guardian and the court that this is what is happening to my son, but they are very slow in seeing that. How do I convince them?

BobE: How do you get the courts to recognize Parental Alienation?

Dr. Darnall: I hate to say it, but they need to read my book and Dr. Gardner's book and visit my web site at On the site, I have different court citations from Ohio. Also, I have been asked to write an article for the North Dakota law review which will help promote recognition of Parental Alienation. The bottom line is we must educate, educate, educate. and that's the purpose of my book and my being here tonight.

Bob M: My guess is, and you tell me if I'm wrong on this Dr., but if you're going to court, plan to spend some money bringing in experts who can educate the judge and/or jury.

Dr. Darnall: Unfortunately that is often true, but many parents have bought many copies of my book to give to attorneys which have made their way to the judges so they can get educated about Parental Alienation. I'm not just trying to sell books, but, books have a way of offering credibility to something that is new and just beginning to get recognized.

Bob M: By the way, Dr. Darnall's book is entitled: Divorce Casualties: Protecting your Children From Parental Alienation. You can purchase it by clicking on this link now, or by dropping by our online bookstore later and looking under the "parenting" titles: book link.

barth: Dr. Darnall, what is the best way for the "targeted parent" to handle it all with integrity and patience?

Dr. Darnall: It's painful, but they must resist the temptation to retaliate with their own alienating behavior. Instead, focus on strengthening the relationship with your children rather than getting defensive and angry. If you are having problems with visitation, you may need to see a counselor who is familiar with Parental Alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome and working with high-conflict parents. Remember, the children will follow the lead of their parents. If the parents can talk and work together calmly, the children will do OK. If you have high-conflict parents, it is usually unrealistic to put the child in counseling because they will never have the power to change their parents' behaviors. You have to work with the parents.

Bob M: That's good for the "targeted parent", but as we all know, you can't control another person's behavior, no matter how hurtful or disruptive it is to someone else, like your own child. So, what are your suggestions for dealing with the "alienator"?

Dr. Darnall: Let's begin with the naive and active alienator. This is described in greater detail in our web site, but for now these parents can often benefit with education. With the obsessed alienator, which is probably what you are talking about, you will need to intervene as soon as possible by getting the court to recognize what is happening to the children and ordering the obsessed alienator into conjoint counseling with a high-conflict counselor. You must also be very persistent in maintaining your visitation. Some courts will stop visitation with the idea that the child and the mother will calm down and visits will resume later. This rarely works because children then learn that it is more comfortable to avoid visits which makes the Parental Alienation Syndrome more severe. Some courts are now beginning, like in the Vermont case, to remove the alienated child from the alienating parent's home and placing them with the targeted parent. Unfortunately, we don't have data to show how effective this approach is, so consequently the courts hesitate in taking this action. Whatever you do, don't give up, and be persistent in trying to exercise your rights as a parent.

Bob M: I just want to clarify one term you used earlier: "naive alienator". Would that be a person who may not be purposefully trying to harm the parental relationship, but is. For instance: "you wait til your father/mother gets home, then you'll really get it".

Dr. Darnall: Yes. It's a parent who has no intention of alienating, but at times alienates. All parents, to some degree, will alienate. An example is the statement: "You're just like your father." Kids, for the most part, can brush this off. The parent, when educated, has sufficient self-control that they can monitor their behavior accordingly. The active alienator is similar to the naive alienator except they get triggered and lose control of their behavior. After losing control, they may feel guilty or remorseful. Sometimes the active alienator may need counseling to help resolve their own personal issues such as betrayal and anger. They can also respond well to education because they know better than to alienate.

Biodad: What about the almost innocent 'parentifying' of a child in conveying the emotional perception of the 'other'? How do you deal with that?

Dr. Darnall: I'm not sure if I understand your question, but I'll try to answer. Sometimes a parent may try to cast the child into a parenting or adult role. This can cause the child a lot of confusion because they lose all sense of the boundaries between being a child and being an adult or parent. When this occurs, it is usually caused by some emotional need of the parent, rather than the parent truly understanding what is best for the child. Children need a parent and not a buddy. They get their buddies at school or with their friends.

barth: My sons are 19 and 20. How about the silent manipulative alienator who uses money, buys them cars, etc?

Dr. Darnall: Yes, that happens, but hopefully the children will eventually have the maturity to see through this. Many kids see the manipulation, won't say anything, and take the money and run. How are they different than anybody else? Again, focus on strengthening your relationship with them by praising them, letting them know how you value them, and by just wanting to be with you because you are a very nice, loving person. Don't retaliate.

Bob M: Here are a few more audience comments, then we'll continue with the questions:

Biodad: The question seems to be reluctance to make definitive rule, guised in the cloak of erring on the side of caution. Without any definitive rule, then there is no reference point.

grandma Bebop My mother "hated" my father and even after he died, when I was only 8, I knew that his name was never to be mentioned in our home, nor that of any of his family. I lost a part of me and went looking for this family the minute I left home.

Chauncey: More importantly, how can one PREVENT this tragedy BEFORE it happens? Is seeking a change of custody a viable remedy?

Dr. Darnall: I don't know how to respond to all of these comments, but let me try to make a few points. First, a change of custody can help with alienation, but the rules for changing custody are often stacked against the targeted parent. You would really need an honest attorney to appraise your situation. You may not like what you hear. Remember, with an involuntary change of custody, the decision is not based on who is the best parent. The court has a bias to leave well enough alone unless your reasons outweigh the advantage of leaving the child with their current residential parent. I am touched by the woman, who for many years tried to reestablish a relationship with their alienated father. You are very much emphasizing the point that I was making in that a child may look for the targeted parent, but only after they have left the influences of the alienating parent. I sincerely hope that all worked out well for you.

Bob M: Just getting back to Chauncey's question: how can you prevent this BEFORE it happens? or is that not possible?

Dr. Darnall: Yes. First educate everyone about Parental Alienation. Secondly, accept the fact that both parents will be actively involved with their children for the rest of their lives and your ex will be in your face for the rest of your life. For your children's sake, regardless of your anger and hurt you must find a way to have peace with that other parent. That has to be your goal for your children. When you fight, there are no winners. Just a lot of bruises from the battle.

Rich1955: My son is in the Parental Alienation Syndrome stages. What can I do to turn him around.

Dr. Darnall: To begin with you've got to find somebody who is familiar with Parental Alienation Syndrome to work with you and your ex. You will probably have to get a court order. Even with the yelling and screaming or the silent treatment, you must be patient and nurturing. I realize that this is very painful to watch. At some point, you will hopefully break through that wall that your child has put up. The difficulty is that all of the work you do can be destroyed by the alienating parent. That is why the alienating parent must be forced to participate in this process. Even with that, success is very hard to come by. That is why you have to focus on preventing Parental Alienation Syndrome. Don't give up because I have seen cases where unexpectedly things turn around. Judge Judy made a good point when she said "You must love your child more than you hate your ex-spouse."

Bob M: To add to what Dr. Darnall has been saying, I know in courts around the country now, and specifically I can talk about Texas, parents with children who are getting divorced must attend a co-parenting class together, so that you can focus on your child and what is best for him/her. They also make suggestions on how to deal with your own feelings of anger, etc. So, at least, this is some acknowledgement by the court, that Parental Alienation Syndrome does exist and is harmful.

Dr. Darnall: I'm finding that courts all over the country are trying to do what is best for children by keeping both parents actively involved in their children's lives. Unfortunately, they at times are as lost for answers as we are.

Bob M: A couple of more questions, then we'll call it a night:

Frank23: What about the long term reenforcement over the years?

Bob M: I think what he's asking is: if there's constant "slamming" of the other parent over a long period of time, what are the effects and chances of the child overcoming them later on?

Dr. Darnall: With the obsessed alienator, there is a constant "slamming" as long as the parent continues to try to be in the child's life. Yes, this is real hard on the children. Unfortunately, the only other choice, if things aren't worked out, is for the parent to disappear. Like the woman above suggested, this is very painful for the child as well as the targeted parent. There is no simple answer.

Bob M: I think it's also important just to be able to remain in the child's life. To remember that while the child is a minor, you may have only limited control over what goes on. But by staying in the child's life, when the child gets older, hopefully that child will be able to see you for who you are. I understand it can be very frustrating and angering and hurtful, but at some point, you also have to consider your own well-being and quality of life...and remember you can't control someone else's behavior. You can only do the best you can.

Dr. Darnall: I completely agree. And that point of when to quit is a very personal decision with no simple answer.

UgliestFattest: Is it more harmful for parents to stay together "for the sake of the children?" My mother had been saying, ever since I can remember, that she was going to leave my father after the youngest graduated high school (which just happened to be me).

Dr. Darnall: Again, that is a very hard question to answer, when should a parent get divorced. If the children are being exposed to violence, abuse, mental illness, substance abuse, then perhaps divorce is best. On the other hand, I have seen couples wanting to divorce simply because one parent wants to live someplace else and the other didn't want to go. In this situation, I don't think they have grounds for divorce, and hopefully by staying together they can work things out for the childrens' sake.

UgliestFattest: Now I hate both of my parents

Bob M: Here are a few final audience comments:

grandma Bebop: I work with women addicts, and many of them had no relationship with father. It is important that you men continue to try to stay in your daughter's life. Very important, and to treat thier mother with respect so they know that is what is expected from a relationship with the men they meet. I was not allowed a relationship with my father and then he died. I continued to search for a daddy in the men I dated til I went into recovery work and got help. Do no let this happen to your daughters. I also want to add that I feel it is very important to remain respectful towards the "other" parent when the child is about, reguardless of their actions. Not doing so, is more dishonoring to your child, that it is the other parent!

Biodad: Unfortunately, when estrangement is identified, it becomes reason to deny access even further.

Dr. Darnall: Thank you for your comments. I agree with Grandma.

Bob M: Dr. Darnell's site address is: . Thank you Dr. Darnall for being here tonight. It was a very educational and enlightening conference. I also want to thank everyone in the audience for participating. I hope you found the information helpful.

Dr. Darnall: It has been my pleasure. I hope I did justice to your questions because sometimes chat sites are very limited in what can be said. If you have other questions, go to my web site, and I do take e-mail. I sincerely hope this and my book, Divorce Casualties: Protecting your Children From Parental Alienation, will be helpful. Thank you.

Bob M: Good Night everyone. We hold Eating Disorders online conferences every other Tuesday night and on alternate Wednesday evenings, we have topical mental health conferences. All conferences start at 6 p.m. Pacific, 8 p.m. CST, 9 p.m. EDT. They are always free and our guests always take your personal questions. So please join us...and invite your friends, webpals, mail list buddies too. If you have any suggestions for future conferences or comments about tonight's conference, please email me at: If you'd like to subscribe to our newsletter, put "subscribe" in the header, send your name and email address to: or click the magic link.

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