Tag Archives: custody

Spotlight On: Dr. Peter Ernest Haiman

API: Tell us about how you began working with children and families.peterhaiman-small

PH: Since the early 1960s, I’ve been helping parents who have come to me with their frustrations about rearing their young children and adolescents. Although my work over the decades has primarily been with parents of infants, toddlers and preschool-age children, I started out teaching English to high school students in an inner-city school.

Most of my classes there were regular students. However, one of my English classes was made up of kids who had severe behavior problems. They were delinquents. No other teacher wanted to teach these adolescents. I wanted to do so.

In my work with them, I found that “how” they were educated made all the difference. Rather than teaching the standard English curriculum, I first found out what topics held their interest as a group. In our first class meetings, it seemed my questions to them brought out a pronounced interest in gangs and cars. I found two related paperback books. I ordered a copy for each student. During the semester, we read and discussed the content of each book in class. Skits provoked by the dilemmas in each book were enacted by groups of students in the class.

My graduate study of how young children learn best revealed that they, too, are motivated when adults first take the time to find out the individual child’s intrinsic interests and then help that child develop and elaborate their experience with that interest.

API: What does your work center around now? What services do you offer?

PH: I try to pass on to others what the research has been teaching about children and how those around them can best nourish their growth and development. For example, in my articles and work with parents I describe how research shows that behavior is usually caused by the status of underlying need states; how often it is better to educate than to teach; and how parents should learn to look through the emotional eyes of their children, not just their own.

Although parents continue to ask me for child-rearing advice, over the past twenty years parents with young children from across the country have asked for my help in divorce, child custody and visitation disputes because of several publications on the topic. Therefore, I have been an expert witness in family courts on issues that address infant and toddler attachment, brain growth and related research. I write court reports that review the empirical and clinical research on the short- and long-term effects of the above dynamics on young children. And I also help mothers become better advocates for themselves and their children during the divorce process.

API: What have parents found most useful about your work and services?

PH: The best people to answer that question are the parents who have sought my help. A few letters from them can be found in “Testimonials from Parents” on my website. In addition, I have two or three folders full of notes and letters in my file drawer that have been collected since I have been in California.

API: What are your views of Attachment Parenting and the work that API is doing?

PH: Although I am pleased that API, like other similar organizations, has an educational and support focus, I wish it would take on more of a political agenda as well. Organizations like API, if they are to have an enduring impact on our society and improve the future well-being of our young children, must join with other similar organizations like the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics, La Leche League, and other similar organizations. These organizations then, in unity, can work together to improve the way our nation treats its young children.

API: Where can people get more information about your services?

PH: People can find out more about me by reading my resume and other information on my website at www.peterhaiman.com.

My Child Doesn’t Want to Visit her Father

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.AuthenticParent.com

Q: I have recently gotten divorced. My daughter is three and initially enjoyed her time with her father, but since staying overnight she refuses to go. Each time he comes to pick her up it is a giant scene. I try to convince her and remind her what a good time she had before, but she won’t budge. What should I do?

Note to readers: This response relates specifically to the questioner, who is a mother and primary caretaker.  Though the terms “mother” and “father” are used here, other terms may be appropriate in individual families that may have different custody and caretaking arrangements.

A: It is the parent’s job to see to it that the child feels at ease during time together. My guess is that staying overnight must have scared your daughter, and/or there may be other issues that she does not feel comfortable with.489190_81593777 upset girl

Any time we try to convince a child to ignore her inner voice and follow our ideas, we teach her to become dependent and insecure. In essence, we tell her, “Ignore how you feel inside, and do what someone else tells you.” Unfortunately she may actually learn this undesirable lesson. She is learning to fall for future peer pressure, media sales, social pressure and to become more dependent on what others say in general. This is the nature of insecurity, a learned habit of undermining one’s own inner guide and following others. Continue reading My Child Doesn’t Want to Visit her Father

Dr. Isabelle Fox on Overnight Visitations: As Harmful as We Suspect?

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Isabelle Fox, PhD
Isabelle Fox, PhD

Attachment Parenting International regularly fields questions from members regarding different aspects of attachment, child development, and challenging family situations. Easily the largest area of concern is among divorced and separated parents who are involved in custody cases in which the other parent is demanding overnight visitation for an infant or young child.

Parents involved in this stressful situation believe that overnight visitation is harmful not only to their individual attachment with the child but also to the child’s overall development. Isabelle Fox, PhD, a psychotherapist, author of Being There, renowned expert on API’s Principle of Providing Consistent and Loving Care, and a member of API’s Advisory Board, wants to leave parents with the truth – that, yes, overnight visitations can be quite harmful to the young child…but that, unfortunately, the courts system is woefully behind on education in this arena of child development. Continue reading Dr. Isabelle Fox on Overnight Visitations: As Harmful as We Suspect?

Dr. Isabelle Fox on Divorce and Older Children

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Isabelle Fox, PhD
Isabelle Fox, PhD

Ideally, marriage lasts forever, but for a variety of reasons, many families today will experience divorce – an event that is as difficult on older children and teens as infants and young children for whom psychotherapist Isabelle Fox, PhD, advocates no overnight visitations with a non-primary caregiver until the child is at least three years old. Just because an older child is able to articulate her feelings and comprehend the concept of divorce doesn’t mean the event is any less traumatic.

“Older children and divorce is also complicated,” because the child has developed a strong attachment to each parent and being forced to deny attachment with one parent is devastating, said Dr. Fox, author of Being There, renowned expert on API’s Principle of Providing Consistent and Loving Care, and member of Attachment Parenting International’s Advisory Board.

Dr. Fox spoke during the second day of API’s 15th Anniversary Celebration gathering in Nashville, Tennessee, last weekend, in a special Hot Topic session, “Custody and Separation.” The session was attended by parents, therapists, and others who work frequently with attached parents dealing with marital separation.

How Divorce Affects Older Children

Parents don’t think about how difficult their divorce will be on their children. Older children and teens are more likely to blame themselves for the divorce or to wonder why their parents don’t love them enough to stay together. Continue reading Dr. Isabelle Fox on Divorce and Older Children

Children of ‘High Conflict’ Custody Battles Tend to Suffer More Emotionally

From API’s Publications Team

EmotionsCustody cases are rarely pleasant, but in about 10 percent of these cases, it truly becomes a battle between the estranged parents and the long-term effects on their children’s mental wellbeing can be devastating.

According to an article on TheHour.com, “Video Offers Advice to Divorcing Parents,” research at the Massachusetts General Hospital show that 65 percent of children involved in high conflict custody cases — or about 10 percent of all custody cases — experience clinical symptoms of anxiety, which manifested in a variety of ways such as physical aggression, sleep disorders, depression, bedwetting, becoming sexually active prematurely, and even dissociation.

What is Dissociation?

Dissociation is the psychiatric term to describe there is a splitting off of a group of mental processes from the main body of consciousness, as what happens with amnesia and some forms of hysteria.

Furthermore, 56 percent of the children of high conflict custody cases develop attachment disorders that leave them unable to form friendships with others in fear of being abandoned.

“In a sense, there is a neglect,” said family court Judge Elaine Gordon in the video she co-created, Putting Children First: Minimizing Conflict in Custody Disputes. “Because parents who are fighting are not capable of emotionally caring for their children.”

To read the entire article, go to http://www.thehour.com/story/464345.

Canada Judge Reverses Custody in Case of Parental Alienation

From API’s Publications Team

GavelCanadian parents who have been the target of parental alienation that is negatively affecting their attachment to their children now have the courts on their side. According to an article on TheGlobeAndMail.com, “Courts Can Rescue Kids From an Alienating Parent,” judges in Canada are now willing to intervene in such custody cases and remove children from homes of the alienating parent even if it’s against the child’s wishes.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is tactics used by one parent to systematically poison the minds of the children against the other parent. For more information, read these articles from the DIVORCED & SINGLE PARENTING section:

The concern is that there is no scientific proof that this intervention to resolve parental alienation cases works.  The support for custody reversal is the studies that reveal what will happen if parental alienation is left to continue unchecked. Children grow up to experience feelings of guilt toward the alienated parent and anger toward the alienating parent, to the point where these emotional traumas negatively affects their relationships with others.

Earlier in January, an Ontario judge stripped a mother of the custody of her three children, ages 9-14, and limited her access to the children to no closer than 300 meters unless in a counseling session. The father had fought for 10 years for custody away from the woman who was trying to excommunicate him from their children’s lives. The father now has the right to take away the children’s cell phones and other devices to prevent communication with their mother, and to remove them from the country in search of counseling.

Eventually, the goal is for the mother to have less restrictive access and communication with the children and for the children to have a positive relationship with both parents. However, the interventions and counseling are to help the child figure out their true feelings toward both parents.

An Example of Parental Alienation

Author Richard Warshak describes a severe case:

During the custody trial, an 18-year-old child threatened violence against his mother if the judge awarded her custody. Today, the child admits that these threats were not his true feelings but what he had been brainwashed to say and think.

This is only the third such ruling in Canada’s history. The first two occurred in Ontario in 1989 and in Quebec in 1991.

“There is a greater understanding that the courts really hold the power to rescue the children from the situation of being caught in the middle,” said Richard Warshak, author of Divorce Poison and coordinator of a workshop that helps alienated parents reunite with their children. In the judgment, Madam Justice Faye McWatt wrote that the mother’s “unrelenting behavior toward the children is tantamount to emotional abuse.”

None of the children wanted to live with their father, but it was determined that the children, even the teen, were unable to think clearly about what they wanted because they had been brainwashed by their mother.

“The Canadian courts are in the forefront,” said Warshak of Dallas, Texas.

But making rulings in parental alienation cases will continue to be a slow process. Child psychologist Barbara Fidler, who had been involved with the family for many years, said professionals involved in these cases need time to assess the situation and to try less drastic measures such as parenting plans and visitation changes.

“There are some cases of what we call realistic estrangement,” Fidler said. “The alienated parent may be abusive, and the child has good reason for not wanting to visit. And then there is true pathological alienation, in which children are refusing contact without good reason.”

This latest ruling is giving hope to parents targeted by parental alienation, who say the tide appears to be turning.

“There was a period of time when people thought that if you did anything to sever that attachment between the child and the favored parent — that is, the allegedly toxic parent — that could cause more harm than any good,” said Jeffery Wilson, a family lawyer specializing in child advocacy.

To read the entire article, go to http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090129.wlgenex29/BNStory/lifeFamily/home.

Do Two Halves Make a Whole?

By Isabelle Fox, PhD, author of Being There and Growing Up and member of API’s Advisory Board

**Originally published in the Fall 2006 Divorce & Single Parenting issue of The Journal of API

Custody BattlesI frequently receive e-mail from parents who practice Attachment Parenting (AP) across the United States and in other countries asking for help and support in custody cases when they are contemplating shared joint custody of their infants, toddlers, and preschool children.

Most of the communications come from single moms who never married or were married only briefly. They often have a poor working alliance with the child’s father and have been unable to establish or maintain a loving, committed relationship with him. As a result, finding an equitable and responsible solution to child custody issues can become a low priority. Money, support payments, anger and/or resentment may be the underlying cause of the conflict.

The best interest of the child is often forgotten. It is tragic that courts and lawyers are frequently insensitive or unaware of the developmental needs of infants and toddlers who lack the language to express their anxieties, stresses, and concerns. Continue reading Do Two Halves Make a Whole?

In Search of Support: My Experience as a Single AP Mom

By Christy Farr Ferrelli, former executive director of API

**Originally published in the Fall 2006 Divorce & Single Parenting issue of The Journal of API

The Many Faces of Single ParentingMy experience as a single attachment parent started when my son was 19 months old and I was seven and one-half months pregnant with my daughter.

The Attachment Parenting (AP) practices that I chose before my divorce, such as breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and babywearing, become more like survival tactics for me as a single parent.

In my experience, the primary obstacle to AP single parenting is a monumental lack of resources. Continue reading In Search of Support: My Experience as a Single AP Mom

What Can a Parent Targeted by Parental Alienation Do?

By Amy J. L. Baker, PhD, director of research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection of the New York Foundling

Parents who are concerned about the other parent trying to turn their child against them should definitely take this concern seriously. Targeted parents should not assume that, because they have a warm and loving relationship with their child, this same child is immune to parental alienation efforts. Targeted parents should also not assume that this problem will go away by itself. Often, a child who experiences parental alienation becomes increasingly alienated until the child is completely out of the parent’s life.

There are several steps targeted parents can do in dealing with potential alienation of a child:

  1. Document the sources of concern, including the specific dates, times, and events – It is possible that putting this list together can shed light on the situation and help a parent see that the situation is much better or worse than originally thought to be. The list could also offer clues as to likely strategies to be used by the alienating parent in the future, which could possibly be thwarted with some advance knowledge and planning. If a parent concludes that parental alienation is a legitimate concern, it is very important that a team of mental health and legal professionals, who are familiar with the problem, is pulled together. Should the situation involve a court case, it is important to work with professionals who understand the dynamics of PAS.
  2. Hold himself or herself to the highest possible standard of parenting – That means the targeted parent should never being late for pick-ups and showing up for all visitation and activities, no matter how difficult that might be and even if it is highly likely that the child will not be made available. Targeted parents need to realize that every misstep will be greatly exaggerated by the alienating parent and that it hurts the “cause” to behave in a way that gives the appearance of being untrustworthy or unloving.
  3. Do not engage in lengthy debates with the child about the alienation – Children do not want to be told that they are being manipulated and that they are not thinking for themselves. Such an attack is likely to entrench the child further into the alienation. Similarly, targeted parents should not spend too much time – if they have any actual visitation time left – engaging in arguments about any of the specific areas of disagreements. It is completely understandable why parents would want to defend themselves when their child is falsely accusing them of some misdeed. However, what the child may take away from such an encounter is a bad feeling about the time spent with the targeted parent. It is much wiser to make whatever time is available with the child positive, warm, and loving – or at least not actively negative and hostile. That being said, it is suggested that targeted parents respond to an accusing child with the following statement, “I hear that you believe that I (insert specific accusation), and I am so sorry that you believe that. I do have my own perspective on that and am willing to discuss it with you if and when you want. In the meantime, let’s (insert enjoyable activity here).” This puts the targeted parent on the record that there is another side of the story, without forcing the child to face a reality she is not able to accept. On a related front, the best way for targeted parents to show their child who they are is to be their best self and to maintain their love and support for the child. Many targeted parents – overcome with grief and frustration – become tempted to cease reaching out to the child, but this can be a mistake. Even the most alienated and rejecting child does not really want the targeted parent to go away for good. The targeted parent can help the child and their relationship by behaving in a consistently loving and available manner – no matter what. Thus, even if the child has cut off a targeted parent, that targeted parent can still send letters, text messages, e-mails, gifts, and so forth. Even if the targeted parent is certain that the cards and gifts are being thrown out or not being brought to the child’s attention, it is important to have a system for consistently trying to make contact, in the event that the child does become aware of these efforts. At the same time, these points of contact should not be guilt-inducing or manipulative in any way. The most important message to convey is, “I love you, and I am thinking of you. I would love to spend time with you whenever you want.”
  4. Maintain empathy for the child, no matter how disagreeable he behaves – It is helpful to think of the child as a nested doll (a doll inside a doll inside a doll) in which the innermost doll is the real child and the outer dolls represent the defenses and distorted beliefs that separate the child from the parent. No matter how ugly the child behaves, the real child is still somewhere deep inside, needing the targeted parent to love him.
  5. Never give up hope – Even the most alienated child can eventually have a realization and want to reestablish contact with the targeted parent. There are many different catalysts for having the realization that one has been manipulated by a parent to forgo a relationship with the other parent. The targeted parent may be the last person to know that the child is in the process of having a change of heart. That is why the targeted parent must always let the child know that the child is valued and loved and will be welcomed back whenever she is ready. It may be useful to think of an alienated child as lost in a dark forest of lies and confusion. All of the points of contact that the targeted parent initiates are like a trail out of that forest, guiding the child back to the targeted parent.
  6. Become educated and get support – Being a targeted parent is one of life’s most painful and sorrowful experiences. Few people understand PAS unless they have experienced it firsthand. There are support groups on the internet and in some communities for targeted parents. There are also a number of good books and websites for targeted parents.

For More Information
Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties that Bind by Amy J. L. Baker
Divorce Casualties: Protecting Your Children from Parental Alienation by Douglas Darnall
Divorce Poison by Richard Warshak
The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Guide for Mental Health and Legal Professionals by Richard A. Gardner

What the Research Says About Adult Children of PAS

By Amy J. L. Baker, PhD, director of research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection of the New York Foundling

The problem of children allying with one parent against the other has been noted for decades, yet little research has been conducted on the problem of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and especially what happens to the children who grow up alienated from one parent by the other parent. In the fall of 2004, such a study was conducted, the purpose of which was to ask three general questions:

  1. Do some alienated children grow up to figure out that they had been manipulated by one parent to forgo a relationship with the other parent?
  2. What are the catalysts for such a realization process?
  3. What are the perceived long-term effects of such an experience?

It was the aim of the study to give a voice to individuals who had been at the center of intense conflict between their parents. These are people for whom so many others have spoken but who have not yet had a chance to speak for themselves.

Forty adults participated in in-depth interviews about their experience growing up turned against one parent by the other parent. Based on the content analysis of the interviews, the following conclusions were developed:

  • The children were not necessarily allying with the “better” parent – Many of the adult children of PAS experienced physical and/or sexual abuse by the alienating parent. This finding is consistent with epidemiological research on the co-occurrence of different forms of abuse. That is, parents who abuse their children in one way tend to abuse them in other ways. This finding should put to rest the idea that, when children chose sides, they are always selecting the better parent, the one more likely to be responsive to their needs.
  • Alienating parents function like cult leaders – The parents who perpetrated parental alienation utilized techniques similar to those employed by cult leaders. Alienating parents were described by their adult children as using emotional manipulation strategies such as withdrawal of love, creation of loyalty binds, and cultivation of dependency. They were also described as using brainwashing techniques, such as repetition of negative statements about the targeted parents and black-and-white thinking.
  • Parental alienation strategies disrupt the attachment between child and targeted parent – The adult children of PAS described 32 different parental alienation strategies their parents used. These can be considered through the lens of attachment theory, as described by John Bowlby. Within this framework, the strategies are viewed as effective tools for interfering with the developing or existing an attachment relationship between the child and the targeted parent.
  • Alienating parents may have personality disorders – The descriptions of the alienating parents provided by the adult children led to the conclusion that many met the diagnostic criteria for having a personality disorder, a pervasive and distorted relational style. Narcissism was the personality disorder most likely to have been present in these families, although some of the parents might have had borderline or antisocial personalities.
  • Parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse – The strategies that the alienating parents used to effectuate the alienation were emotionally abusive in and of themselves. That is, the alienating parents verbally assaulted, isolated, corrupted, rejected, terrorized, ignored, and over-pressured the children in order to alienate them from the targeted parent. These behaviors are part and parcel of what constitutes emotional abuse of children. In addition, it is proposed that separation of a child from a parent for no reason also constitutes a form of emotional abuse.
  • Realization of parental alienation is a process, not an event – Realizing that one has been turned against a parent by the other parent was usually a slow and painful process. For most of the adult children of PAS, it did not occur in a single transformative event. The defense mechanisms constructed to support the alienation – denying that the alienating parent is selfish and manipulative, denying that the targeted parent has positive qualities, denying that the child wants a relationship with the targeted parent, denying that the child is afraid of losing the love of the alienating parent – take time to be broken through. Although all of the adult children interviewed for the study had come to realize that they had been alienated from one parent by the other, the length of time they had been alienated and the age at the time of the awareness varied.
  • The impact of parental alienation is lifelong and may be intergenerational – PAS has negative long-term effects including depression, low self esteem, inability to trust self and others, substance abuse, and becoming alienated from one’s own children. Three different patterns of the intergenerational transmission of PAS have been identified.

These findings from this study refute three common myths about PAS:

  1. That parental alienation is only perpetrated by mothers against fathers – Although this was the case for many of the adult children, it was not true of all of them. In 6 of the 40 interviews, fathers were the alienating parent. Because the sample was neither random nor representative, it is not possible to calculate the actual proportion of gender in the general population of alienating parents. But it can be concluded definitively that some fathers do practice parental alienation. This was also borne out in surveys of targeted parents that produced samples that were evenly divided between mothers and fathers.
  2. That PAS only occurs in divorced families – While PAS was first identified as a phenomenon in the context of post-divorce custody litigation and evaluations, it is now evident that PAS can take place in intact families.
  3. That PAS is only effectuated by custodial parents – Again, a prototypical PAS case was a custodial mother alienating the children from their father, following a bitter divorce. However, this is not the only PAS scenario. The custodial parent has a far greater degree of access to the child in order to effectuate the alienation, but this does not preclude the possibility of alienation being perpetrated during visitation with a non-custodial parent, especially if visitation is frequent and the parent is especially effective at thought control and emotional manipulation techniques.