Wholeness Healing Today

Parentification: A Fine Line Between Healthy Responsibility and Robbing Our Children of Play

Lately I have been concerned with children who have become “parentified” and I often hear parents tell their older (est) child to, “Watch your sister. If she gets hurt, it’s your fault.” As most of you know, I love giving children opportunities to become responsible. I believe that when we guide our children by allowing them to contribute to the family, by way of chores and helping around the house, that we instill accountability, which in turn helps their sense of self-worth, as well as their reciprocal behaviors.  But there is a fine line between allowing them those fulfilling opportunities and assigning them to take care and watch over their siblings.

I have noticed lately, especially older or oldest children, not knowing how to play or being constantly vigilant about their siblings, or “doing it right”. They are so worried that they will be in trouble that they have stifled their imaginations, curbed their creativity, and seriously inhibited their enjoyment of play time.  So I began talking to the parents and watching. Parents would put the older child “in charge” of the baby when they went outside, and it gradually moved to assuming that when the parent wasn’t in the room, the older child became responsible for the younger child. I believe this is a practice that is hindering the childhood of the “child in charge”, especially if the younger child gets hurt, by falling, running into something, or just scraping a knee. What I have then noticed is parents scolding the older child, who then seems to feel guilt for his/her own play, and then begins resenting the younger child. When this happens over and over, the resentment grows, not only at having a “lost childhood” but also to being a sibling that had to be “the parent”.  In severe neglect cases, I have had 3-4 year olds responsible for making bottles for babies, changing diapers, and dressing their siblings. When this is the expectation of the child, the play time is fraught with demands and responsibilities that are not age-appropriate.

In the hypnotherapy sessions I have been doing, many people go back to trauma in their childhood, and often it is their perception that they were ignored, mistreated, not loved, or abused, and that then becomes their “life script”. While I believe that most parents truly do the best they can, I do think we need to take a closer look at when and how we assign responsibility to our children. Giving them chores, and expecting them to help with daily household duties seems to foster responsibility, but when we make them responsible for a younger child, especially one who may have “stolen” attention from them, I do think we need to adjust our expectations of the child, so as not to make him/her responsible for the well-being and care of a younger sibling. Guiding a more nurturing, caring loving relationship should be the goal, not to always have a “good little helper” who then loses his/her own identity.

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  • Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
    Licensed Professional Counselor
    Advanced Clinical HypnoTherapist

  • Deb England began working part-time for Wholeness Healing Center in September 2004 and began full-time in May 2005. Deb practices primarily in the Broken Bow office and one day a week in the Grand Island office. Previously she had completed her practicum and internship at Morning Star Alliance, working in the Broken Bow and Grand Island offices.


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