Updated: Dec 13, 2022
In my previous blog I wrote about “Lilly” the parentified child. Because of her background of survival, Lilly had to grow up quickly. She never experienced what it was like just to be a normal little girl. Now that she’s in foster care, it’s very difficult—actually very scary and threatening—for her to give up the control she needed to help herself and her younger siblings survive. How can her new foster parents help her to just be that normal little girl? Here are some helpful and hopeful approaches:
Patience, patience, patience!! Above all, we must remember that “de-parentifying” the parentified child is a long-term process. A child’s habit of assuming the parent role for his or her younger siblings is a deeply-ingrained one. Again, it is based on raw survival. Survival tactics do not fade away quickly. Along with this, try to be understanding and empathetic towards the child. Ask her how she took care of her siblings, and what this was like for her.
Don’t take it personally when the child is resistant, even outwardly rebellious. This is about her, not you.
Establish crystal-clear boundaries and rules for everyone in your household; but also realize that for the parentified child it will be a slower process for her to abide by these boundaries and rules.
Most parentified children are used to doing just about everything for their younger siblings. In moderation, choose some scaled-down small jobs/responsibilities that are similar to what they did in their parent role. Some examples would be helping a younger sibling to make his bed, brushing a younger sister’s hair or helping you to prepare a meal.
Find ways to help the parentified child just “be a kid.” Spend focused one-on—one time with her, talking about her day, her hopes and dreams and her interests. Get her (or him) involved in some outside-of-school activities like team sports, clubs or music lessons that expose her to interactions with same-age peers.
Give your child positive reinforcement for the age-appropriate things she does. Prior into care, she’s had to do many things that only adults should have to do.
I hope this has been helpful to those of you who are parenting a parentified child!