What Is A Parentified Child? How Foster Parents Can Help

What is a Parentified Child

What is a Parentified Child

Looking for ways to help a child who has been a parent

When a child is put in the position of taking on an adult's role, it is termed parentification. Many children get pushed into the role of caring for their younger siblings or becoming an emotional crutch to their parents. This role reversal happens when parents cannot fully show up for their children.

Parentification is a form of psychological abuse and is undoubtedly a boundary violation for a child. Parentified children wind up in developmentally inappropriate situations. This includes emotionally caring for their parents, physically caring for the household, and taking on jobs at a young age to support the family.

Some of the situations that parentification can arise from include: 

  • Divorce
  • Death of a parent or sibling
  • Substance abuse of a parent
  • Chronic disease or disability of a parent or sibling
  • Domestic violence relationship between parents
  • Abusive parent/child relationship, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, or verbal abuse
  • Immature or emotionally unavailable parent
  • A parent who struggles with mental health

In perusing the internet regarding this topic, there seem to be two types of parentification. 

The first is ​emotional parentification. This is when the child is forced to offer emotional support to their parent and become the parent's confidant or emotional caretaker. A parent may overshare their negative feelings about their marriage or life in general. The parent may even harm themselves or the other parent in front of the child. The child develops a caregiving role for their parent, which is too much for a child to go through.

Then there is​ instrumental parentification. ​This manifests in the child taking on the household's chores and adult responsibilities. They may be forced to take on tasks such as cooking, cleaning, or caring for younger siblings. Some adolescence may even take on a job to help pay the bills. Exposure to these situations can erase the joy of what should be a carefree time in a youth's life.

Parentified children often need therapeutic intervention with a mental health professional. It is typical for them to struggle to have fun and to set boundaries with their family members. They are used to being in the caretaker role. There are many adverse effects of parentification.

Typically, the child views their self-worth as being linked to what they can provide others. They feel the need to be in control and to be the peacekeeper since those responsibilities were forced onto them. A parentified child may also believe being self-reliant is better than trusting others. Therapeutic interventions for parentified children will help them understand that they are deserving of unconditional love.

My next blog will discuss therapeutic interventions for the parentified child.


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