The set of duties and responsibilities in a parent-child relationship is most often clear.

While parents have to look after their children, take care of their needs and necessities, kids need to follow certain rules to steer clear of danger and focus on their growth.

However, sometimes, there is a complete role reversal, where a child is ‘parentified’ i.e. he or she suddenly finds themselves acting as a parent or a caregiver.

It is when children are placed in a position where they feel more like a parent than children. This is called “parentification”, in which kids become responsible for themselves and their parents.

From looking after the house to being a support system to their parents, children have to take on roles that may leave a lasting impact on their mind and mental state.

Types of parentification

There are two types of parentification: instrumental and emotional parentification.

Instrumental parentification occurs when parents burden their children with roles and responsibilities that aren’t appropriate for their age. This involves grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, paying bills, etc.

On the other hand, emotional parentification refers to situations where parents depend or rely on their kids for emotional support. “Parentified” kids are expected to decipher what their parents are going through and then provide support for the same.

Both forms of parentification can be destructive for the child’s mental state and may affect them in the long run.

How it affects children

Raising children is often considered challenging. So imagine how kids would feel if they’re to manage grown-up responsibilities at a young age.

With no experience, no guidance and hardly any support, taking on the role of a parent can be highly overwhelming and stressful for children. Experts believe the pressure of parentification can often result in anxiety, depression and other mental health problems in children and with no one to talk to about it, it could linger on to their adult life.

Furthermore, parentification can also lead to aggressive behaviour in kids, could affect their academic progress and lead to social difficulties, according to The Developmental Implications of Parentification: Effects on Childhood Attachment, a 2012 research study by Jennifer A. Engelhardt, PsyD, from the Teachers College at Columbia University.

Signs of a parentified child

Some of the possible signs of a parentified kid are as follows:

– Stress and anxiety

– Physical symptoms including stomach problems, unexplained headaches and more

– Aggressive behaviour and academic problems

– Social anxiety, reluctance to participate in events and engage with other kids.

How to make things right

The first and foremost step to take is to identify whether you’re burdening your child with too many responsibilities. The earlier you recognize unhealthy parent-child dynamic, the better it is for you and your child.

Although most children who experienced parentification do not necessarily need therapy or treatment, if they suffer from long lasting negative effects, consult a professional. Since anxiety and depression are possible outcomes of parentification, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may help with the healing process.

Most importantly, help parentified kids reconnect with their inner child.