Healing From Parentification – Who Needs it and Why Is it Important?

Ever met a child in your neighborhood who is always attempting to engage in any job that can fetch him or her some money? Who feels they have to cater for a younger sibling and doesn’t mind at what costs? Who had probably disengage and finds little or no interest in some activities his peers gladly would jump on because he grew up too soon? Or perhaps you are yet to meet a kid who feels he needs no one to help him figure out a problem, the list is endless but all of which are examples of parentification.

Parentified kids exist all around us, in our estates, on our streets, offices, businesses, at the mall, coffee shops, schools etc. Only that sometimes they aren’t literally kids but adults or young adults.


The term ‘parentification’ was first coined by Spark in (1973); to describe a common component of relationships whereby’ parental characteristics/responsibilities’ are projected onto an namely – a ‘child, young person’ etc.

Who is a parentified child?

A parentified child, is one that often readily assumes the role of an adult as a result of a difficult or traumatic childhood on the account of lack of responsibility from the parent.

Parentified children often do not get a chance to experience true childhood as a normal child should, they are forced or conditioned to grow up too soon.

An Hungarian-American psychiatrist and a founder of family therapy Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy used the term “parentification” to describe a “distortion or lack of boundaries” with the family system resulting in “children [taking] on roles and responsibilities usually reserved for adults.”


What causes Parentification?

Parentification often occurs deliberately or in deliberately, particularly when parents or other primary guardian are unable or unwilling to take on the responsibilities of their children. Exposing children to high degree of taking responsibility at a very young age thereby depriving them of their childhood (freedom, games, peer relationships and carefree attitudes).

Also, these set of children happen to take up adult responsibilities while the adults (parents or guardian) go about engaging in the following:

  • Deal with a serious or chronic medical condition
  • Whines over a sad past and at such takes to substance abuse or alcohol
  • Struggles with a mental illness
  • Serving time in jail
  • Are Impoverishment and facing financial hardships hence unable to make ends meet
  • Get divorced
  • Go to their kids for emotional support during a divorce, crossing appropriate boundaries
  • Place their kids in the middle of their couple conflicts
  • Become forced to Babysit younger siblings while parents are out late or work multiple jobs, they might not be home very much and lean on older children to tend to adult responsibilities after school and on weekends
  • When children need to work to help support the family
  • The illness or disability of a sibling at the expense of their own needs.

The above list leads to grooming and ultimately raising parentified children as these roles and responsibilities they take on consumes most of their free time and hampers them from making or have a social life outside the home due to pressing responsibilities.

Common Challenges of Parentified children

Basically, parentification leave its victims with serious effects in majority of cases, though not all. Since, kids from this type of situations lack a lot of emotional and mental support as well as financial they are often faced with some of the challenges below.

  • Have very little feeling of love, or appreciations and praise
  • Might feel unsafe, have low self esteem, lack social virtues and maybe a loner (lacking a sense of belonging) in a social space.
  • Lack of structure, lacking self peace and happiness – as these kids have their minds always on a race on what’s next, and how they can control mishap before they eventually happen.
  • Struggle to ask for help, perhaps even thinking that reaching out for help is a sign of weakness
  • High sense of self-reliance
  • Being highly responsible at a young age
  • Your self-esteem is tied into how responsible, disciplined, and well-behaved you are
  • Difficulty letting loose or having fun
  • Feeling accountable for being the peacemaker when others have conflicts
  • Being a caregiver feels good, even if it comes at the expense of your own well-being
  • Feeling like you had a “lost childhood”
  • Never feel that your efforts are appreciated by others
  • Heightened sense of empathy
  • Difficulty with trust in relationships
  • Need to feel in control at all times
  • Being a “people-pleaser”

How to help Kids get healing from parentification

Yes, healing from parentification as a child, young adult or mature adult is possible.

First, be willing to forgive and let go: Not every call to parentification by parents or guardian is intentionally done. But, still that doesn’t make it right, be willing to forgive and let go of that anger, that strive, and memories that placed you in positions that rid you of your childhood and perhaps took advantage of your naivety and be willing to heal.

To heal from parentification – Get in touch with your “inner child”, summon that little girl in you, the very innocent one that has its picture on your room wall, look at how at peace he or she looks and let go of that rage, address that underlying trauma through accepting a therapy.

Healing from your trauma is essential. Traumatic experiences can change the way your brain functions and processes information. By entering therapy, you can begin to heal the way that your brain is wired.

You are not too old to do those things you wished you could do as a child – Are there things you wished you could do as a child, you could still do them now, yes ride a swing, party with friends, throw a tantrum, get that bike etc. Yes, you can meet your own needs now, and if you are too old to throw a tantrum, you can watch your kids do and be a better parent.


Above all – “Let Love in”, this seems to be very difficult for parentified people, struggling with so much emotional blackmail that they do not feel they can experience true unconditional love.

First, love yourself wholeheartedly and allow yourself to truly love and care for another, even more allow yourself to be loved by another. Accept those special treats, accept a helping hand, feel a connection and stay reasonable. You will find more happiness that way and life could truly be better even as an adult.

An excellent place to start healing from parentification is to identify your unmet needs. If you need structure, create a routine. If you need praise, ask your boss for feedback at work, or remind your loved ones what you need to hear.

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