Five Co-Parenting Interventions from "Divorce Poison: Protecting the Parent/Child Bond From a Vindictive Ex"
by Dr. Richard A. Warshak
as reviewed by Shonnie Brown, MFT

The power of this book is that Dr. Warshak uses very tough real life scenarios to help readers understand parental alienation and the signs of it, telling how and why parents manipulate their children. He also spells out dozens of strategies for responding to bad-mouthing, lying and brainwashing while preserving your relationship with your child and not succumbing to the impulse to retaliate in kind. Here are a few of Dr. Warshak's specific interventions:

1. Suggestions for a parent whose child has become alienated by a vengeful co-parent:

  1. Don't retaliate against the child or alienating parent, as this will only escalate hostility and become an excuse they may use to justify rejection.
  2. Maintain contact with the child. Breaking contact only increases his hurt, anger and blame towards you.
  3. Build tolerance for withstanding high levels of aggression and hostility, reminding yourself that the child who inflicts pain on you is a victim of the other parent's hostility.
2. Actions to take when an alienated child views you as all bad:
  1. When your child is with you, expose him/her to people, especially other children, who value you and treat you with positive regard.
  2. Don't argue with your child about the origin of his/her criticisms of you, even when he is quoting your ex. Instead, briefly acknowledge the criticism and then try to change the mood with a fun activity.
3. Actions grandparents may take when caught in the parental alienation bind:
  1. Use restraint when the child is hateful to the alienated parent by saying that you are sorry to see this. But don't try to "talk sense" into the children, criticize or punish them.
  2. Postpone any conversation about the alienation until you and the child are engaged in a fun activity.
  3. At the right time, mention how much fun you are having and reminisce over past good times.
  4. When the child acknowledges the good times you shared, it becomes more difficult for him/her to rewrite the history of the relationship discounting the good memories.
4. Actions to take when parental-child boundaries have become blurred around feelings:
  1. Use this awareness as an opportunity to talk to your child about similarities and differences between people; i.e. "How are you like me? Like your dad?" and "How are you different from us?"
  2. Then discuss differences in what people may feel. Encourage your child to think of his own examples of ways that he feels different from you and/or the other parent.
  3. Then use an example involving anger to show your child that he does not have to share the hatred of a parent that hates you: "Because Daddy is angry with Mommy, you don't have to feel the same way. You don't have to be angry with Mommy just because Daddy is. You can have your own feelings."
5. Actions to take when the alienating parent is lying about you to your child:
A retaliating co-parent may greatly distort the truth or lie outright out of anger. When lies and distortions are repeatedly told to a child, they will begin to believe them and feel that they must distance themselves from the "bad" parent in order to please the "good" parent. Kids are enlisted as participants in a hate campaign when parents distort by saying things such as "Remember when your mother kidnapped you?" "Your grandparents can't be trusted." "You're scared to death of your father."
  1. Lies should be challenged as soon as possible because the repetition of lies creates false memories in children that are difficult to erase.
  2. Invite your child to think for himself with regard to the lie. Are the allegations consistent with his experience of you?
  3. When you fear your child is likely to dismiss your denials, it may be best for another trusted person to correct the distortions with him or her.


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