Karen, I have a gift for you.

Karen, I have a present for you.

I know that you’re all concerned about the different “hybrid” variants of “alienation,” and I know that you’re a parental alienation expert and all, but when you enter the world of general parent-child conflict, what you’re calling “hybrid cases” – well you’re spot-on in my domain of expertise now.

I’m an ADHD expert.  Because of that, I’m also an oppositional-defiant expert, with a particular focus in angry, grumpy, fighting families, and I’m an expert in high-functioning autism, along with learning disabilities, problematic parenting, sensory-motor dysregulation, school failure, post-divorce, delinquency, step-families – all the possible things that are creating family conflict and are co-morbid factors to ADHD.

So when you’re in the world of not “pure alienation” parent-child conflict as you characterize it, that’s my professional home as a child and family clinical psychologist.

Since I know you have an interest in what you’re calling “hybrid” cases of “alienation” that are caused by “many factors,” I’d like to offer you a gift that you might find helpful.  It’s something I started in 2014, I then did some additional work with it in 2015, and I’m hoping I’ll be getting back to it once we solve “parental alienation.”

It’s a coding system for all forms of parent-child conflict.  Everything.  Every type – every causal factor – of parent-child conflict can be captured with a unique number sequence by this coding system.

Parent-Child Conflict Coding System

I want you to have it.  It might help you keep track of all the different “hybrid” variants of parent-child conflict there are.

On the first page is the coding form for AB-PA.  Since AB-PA has two variants, there are two coding variants for the AB-PA “Syndrome Category” (SC), the narcissistic variant (SC-01: 01) and the borderline variant (SC-01: 02).  Notice that the Primary Origin code and the first of the Secondary Factors codes are the same for both variants.  The narcissistic variant differs from the borderline variant due to the influence of differing Parent Vulnerability factors.

Also notice all the Modifiers at the bottom (listed as the same for both variants).  While all of these modifiers may not be present in any specific case, I’d say that at least the first two, Narcissistic Parent (NP) and Terminal Course (TC), must be present for it to be AB-PA.

So the pathology that I am working on solving is categorized on the first page by the two variant codes:

SC-01: 01: AB-PA Pathology; Narcissistic Variant
PCC-05: 02 PCC-00: 02 PCC-04: 01: 01

SC-01: 02: AB-PA Pathology, Borderline Variant
PCC-05: 02 PCC-00:  02 PCC-04: 03

I highlighted the first two category codes to indicate the common core features of the pathology, and to also emphasize the differing feature for the two variants.  This is not a diagnostic system, it’s a coding system that gives a unique code to all the different types of parent-child conflict – all of them.

If the Parent-Child Conflict codes for the family do not match the codes on that coding sheet describing the category codes for AB-PA, then it’s not AB-PA.

What is it – if it’s not AB-PA?  What is the type of conflict if the family’s category codes are NOT the category codes for AB-PA?

I don’t know… let’s find out…

Start by identifying the primary category of conflict.  Is the parent-child conflict primarily resulting from the child’s inherent vulnerabilities (something like impulsivity problems from ADHD), or is it coming from problematic parenting, goodness-of-fit issues, situational factors…? What is the primary cause?  Assign a Primary Origin category.

Now if we’re talking about a hybrid of “alienation,” then I’d say we’re likely talking about a Primary Origin category of PCC-05:02 Family Systems Strain; Child Triangulation – Parent-Child Coalition Against a Parent.

If you want to call a parent-child conflict that is not primarily a cross-generational coalition of the child with an allied parent a “hybrid” case of “alienation,” you can do that if you want.  Just specify what the Primary Origin category is for the cause of the parent-child conflict.

But if you want to start labeling parent-child conflicts that are primarily caused by factors other than a cross-generational coalition as still being “hybrid cases” of “alienation,” I’m likely to suggest that you’re using an over-broad definition of what “alienation” is, and that we’d do better to use a more restricted coding definition for that form of  pathology.  From where I sit, I think the construct of “hybrid cases” of “alienation” should be restricted to parent-child conflicts with the Primary Origin of PCC-05:02; Family Systems Strain; Child Triangulation – Parent-Child Coalition Against a Parent.

Once you determine the Primary Origin code for the parent-child conflict, then you can add Secondary Factors, child vulnerability factors, parent vulnerability factors, all the different variant influences on creating parent-child conflict.

This will result in a set of code numbers for your variant – for your “hybrid” type of “alienation.”  If you want to get really fancy, rank order the importance of the Secondary Factors from most important to least.

Try it.  You will be able to give any type of parent-child conflict a unique code.  Pick one of your favorite “hybrid” variants and start applying the coding system.  I’ve given you a blank coding sheet in the Appendix.  Start with the Primary Origin code, then add relevant Secondary codes, and look at what you wind up with… a code that uniquely captures the features of that type of parent-child conflict.

Notice the Organizing Headers:

00 Empathic Failure
01 Situational Factors
02 Child Vulnerability Strains
03 Child/Parent Vulnerability Strains
04 Parent Vulnerability Strains
05 Family Systems Strains

Try it for conflicts other than “alienation.” Anything.  Pick a parent-child conflict situation – anything you’d like.  Then assign a Primary Origin code and start developing a (hierarchy) of Secondary Factors, and then look at the completed code you wind up with.

I think it’s a pretty darn good coding system for a very complex issue.  People are going to be hard-pressed to come up with a better coding system that covers ALL types of parent-child conflict any better than the Parent-Child Conflict Coding System.  Every causal factor for every type of parent-child conflict will yield a unique code specifically for that type of conflict.

The key for the coding system is to capture all the possible types of things that go into creating parent-child conflict – normal conflict, abnormal conflict, pathological conflict – everything.  What are all the possible things that contribute to parent-child conflict?

I think I’ve got them all in the Parent-Child Conflict Coding System.  I may have missed one or two, but once it gets rolled out in a couple of years, any gaps in the coding system will become clear, and we just add a feature or two that I may have missed.

I developed the categories in 2014 and I began my work on describing the features of each of the different categories and sub-categories in 2015, describing all the nuances of each factor.  Then I got all busy with “parental alienation” (AB-PA), and I haven’t been able to get back to the expanded descriptions of each category and subcategory of parent-child conflict.  But I’m hoping to have some time to work on this soon.  Once it’s completed, it’s going to be a pretty interesting categorical system for capturing all forms of parent-child conflict.

And you know what, it’s really useful if you want to propose a “syndrome.”  See what I did using the coding system?  I assigned a code number for my proposed “syndrome” (SC-01) and I gave this proposed “syndrome” a name; Attachment-Based Parental Alienation.  Now because there are two variants to AB-PA, I have a second-level code number for each of the variant forms of the AB-PA pathology, the Narcissistic Variant (01) and the Borderline Variant (02).

We then have the category codes for defining each variant of the proposed “syndrome.”  When offering a “syndrome” proposal, I’d recommend for the author to also present a comprehensive description for why that set of conflict categories hold together in an associated group, like Foundations.

Then, you know how we can test whether there is actually a syndrome?  We can collect lots and lots of data in which parent-child conflicts surrounding high-conflict divorce are categorized using the Parent-Child Conflict Coding System and we look to see (do a factor analysis) if we get various coherent groupings that would amount to a “syndrome” – to a particular constellation of causal factors.

Back in 2014 I did a brief workup of the attributions of causality for the parent-child conflict of “parental alienation” (AB-PA) from each person’s perspective.

The Domains of Parent-Child Conflict and the Causal Attributions for “Parental Alienation”

I start off with the list of code categories, and I then provide a category workup for the attributions of causality offered by each person in the “parental alienation” family conflict.

The characteristic attribution of causality codes offered by the allied parent and child are:


These are all attributions of causality to the (targeted) parent.

The category codes for the targeted parent’s attributions of causality for the parent-child conflict are:


Notice the pattern here.  The child and allied parent are attributing the cause of the parent-child conflict to Category 04; the parenting failures of the targeted parent, while the allied parent is attributing the cause to Category 05; family factors.

When we see this Category constellation of attributions for family conflict (a parent-child attribution to Category 4 and a parent attribution to Category 05), we should at least be thinking about the possibility of SC-01: AB-PA.

I’m still working on the descriptions for each of the category factors… but I know that you’re interested in what you call the various “hybrid” cases of “alienation” that have “many causes,” so I thought I’d provide you with the Parent-Child Conflict Coding System.  You might find it helpful in organizing all the different variants of parent-child conflict.

I assigned the Syndrome Category of SC-01 to AB-PA because… well because I’m the first person using it, so I might as well take the first slot.  If you want to propose some “syndrome” constellation of causal factors, go ahead and take SC-02, give your proposed “syndrome” a name, describe why you expect this grouping of causal categories to hold together into a pattern, and then, when we ultimately collect lots and lots of data, we’ll do a factor analysis on the data and see if the proposed groupings do indeed show up.

But for now, just try out the Parent-Child Conflict Coding System.  Pick a few different types of parent-child conflict, from a kid wanting candy at the supermarket to the most complex type of conflict you can imagine.

To possibly anticipate a question you might have, I’m not sure what you mean by the supposed “split state of mind” for the child that you talk about, so I’m going to hold off commenting on that, but from what I suspect you’re reaching for, the child’s psychological stress from a “split state of mind” that you’re proposing would fall under the category of:

PCC-01:    Situational Factors
07  Child – Stress-Related Emotionality/Behavioral Dysregulation

So I suspect the category code for what you’re calling a “split state of mind” would be: PCC-01: 07

But notice something, if you want to identify the specific type of stress the child is experiencing that is causing the emotional/behavioral dysregulation, we just add another sub-level to this sub-category that lists all the various sources of stress, homework, social issues, a death in the family, changes in residence, probably numbering in the hundreds.  And if you wanted to give “split state of mind” a category number as a source of situational stress, that’s do-able.  We’d have to develop the entire sub-sub-category list of all possible sources of stress, and then embed your “split state of mind” proposal into the list.  But I don’t think that level of specificity adds much of value.  However, if anyone wants to get that specific, the Parent-Child Conflict Coding System can adapt to handle it.  We can get incredibly fine-grained on coding the cause of the parent-child conflict.

And Karen, if I can suggest something,

If you’re not taking and using my stuff… you should be.

The three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA, the trauma reenactment narrative, the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting, the Parenting Practices Rating Scale, and now the Parent-Child Conflict Coding System are all really good stuff.

If you’re not taking and using the systems of information I’m developing, you should be.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

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