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When the bond breaks

Being deprived or taught to reject a parent can be very confusing for a child, says Dr Mohanraj.

Being deprived or taught to reject a parent can be very confusing for a child, says Dr Mohanraj.

ALIENATED children tend to face problems in school.

They often find it tough to concentrate, think they’re not good enough, and get into trouble for misbehaving, says child therapist Priscilla Ho.

“It’s not that they want to behave badly. They just can’t help themselves when they get laughed at, or bullied,” says Ho, who’s the co-founder of Creativity at Heart, a non-profit child guidance centre for youngsters, and president of Child Rising, a non-governmental organisation.

Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj says a child affected in parental alienation tends to be aloof and introverted and as such, may not be able to cultivate healthy interaction with other children and teachers in school.

“If you know that the child comes from an unhappy family environment, it should raise a red flag especially among teachers and neighbours,” he says.

He points out that parental alienation will have a negative impact on the normal psychological development of a child to adolescence, and later adulthood.

They may be unable to form healthy bonds with their own children in future as they’ve not experienced it themselves. And, such individuals tend to come off as aloof and strict.

“Being deprived of a parent, or taught to reject a parent, can be very confusing to the child. This will have a bearing on the child’s overall development including school performance,” he explains.

Only when society sees parental alienation as a form of child abuse, will neighbours and teachers fully understand that children in such cases need psychological help, says Dr Mohanraj.

Without the support of both parents, adds Ho, a child finds it hard to cope. There’s no father and mother to guide them. The child grows up, plagued by trust issues, and unable to develop close friendships. The emotional impact on a child’s behaviour is strong, she says.

Many schools, she feels, are short of counsellors. Some school counsellors are even required to teach and stand in for subject teachers.

Urging teachers to help a child express what’s bothering him or her through creative means, helps.

“Our counselling skills need to be improved. Working with young people is difficult. Counsellors need to be creative and know the child’s history well. Don’t just look at the problems, and ignore the positives.”

Ho says it’s important to have both parents in the child’s life even after a divorce, because it builds trust.

“For children to thrive, they must have trust, an identity, and self-confidence. They must develop resilience to stand up again after having fallen. Couples and children face so many challenges. It is also important not to just focus on academic achievements.

Children cope better if they have a caring teacher and good friends. She advises parents to:

Be fair to the child

Gently let the child know that both parents are planning to separate. Don’t use big words especially when speaking to youngsters. Involve them in the process so that they’re prepared when mummy or daddy moves out. Don’t create separation anxiety which will lead to more problems later on.

Be professional

Don’t do something to spite one another at the expense of the children.

Don’t involve the children in your issues

Don’t turn them into spies by asking about visitation details like who was present, what happened or where they went, when the child is with the other parent.

Don’t play politics

Don’t blame the other party for the breakup.