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Parentification

When we imagine a typical family dynamic, the role of parents is generally assigned to the grownup couple, while the role of children is assigned to the younger off-springs of the parents. The roles and duties are then distributed amongst the family members based on the abilities and experiences they acquire largely based on their age. This enables a smooth functioning system where the better-abled and experienced members play the role of caregivers in nourishing the development of the younger members.

However, in certain situations, a role reversal may take place. It is not rare to come across families where the parents play the role of children, whereas the children are expected to take on the more challenging task of playing the role of the parents.

 Unfortunate circumstances, such as the death of or separation from a spouse, psychiatric illness or drug addiction in one or both of the parents, demanding occupational lives of the parents, chronic or terminal illness in one or both of the parents, emotionally tumultuous early home environment, may contribute to this role reversal termed as parentification. In such families, owing to the emotionally and psychologically draining life situations, the child may invariably be forced to act as his own parent, or as a parent to his siblings, or even as a parent to his own parents. 

More about Parentification and counselling

Parentification of a child may manifest performing physical tasks for the family, which may include cooking, cleaning, paying the bill, tending to a sick family member, assisting a younger sibling etc. It may also manifest in a relatively more psychologically damaging form where the child functions as a confidante or mediator between the parents or other family members.

There is little evidence that this role reversal may help the child develop self-worth, resilience, self-reliance, and a clearer sense of self. Largely, it has been found to contribute to the development of dysfunctional personality traits, neurosis, poor attachment styles, maladaptive coping abilities, and even psychiatric illnesses or drug addictions in the child from the early years continuing till adulthood. 

Many adults who seek therapy often grieve about a lost childhood, one riddled with confusing expectations and responsibilities well beyond their capabilities. The parents certainly are not to be blamed, as more often than not, this parentification is unintentional, and the parents may themselves be emotionally depleted or traumatized enough to even recognize these subtle signs of role reversal.

Parentification of a child - What you should do? 

Considering the psychological repercussions on the child’s emotional and mental well-being, here are a few guidelines to remember to avoid parentification, especially in situations of divorce, death, separation, psychiatric illness, or drug addiction in the family:

  • Refrain from making statements which require your child to grow up too soon- “You are the man of the house now”, ‘You will need to take care of us and your siblings” etc. 

  • Reassure your child.

  • Do not make your child your main confidante.

  • Ensure the presence of an adult caregiver in the family- relatives or your trusted friends.

  • Seek psychological treatment if you find yourself in a situation which causes you emotional and psychological stress, and compromises your capacity as a parent.


Learn more about Parentification of a child along with parentification and counselling psychologists, ask us at  hello@mindtalk.in. Or simply visit MindTalk. Also, you can alternatively call at our helpline number- +91 95131073735.