In my work with children who have been removed from abuse or neglect settings, more often than not children will display “parentified” behavior. These children have experienced a role reversal between parent and child. The child has, by necessity, taken over the parental role, sacrificing their own needs in order to maintain the needs of the parent. Foster or adoptive parents will often complain that their child is consistently arguing, being bossy, manipulating, sneaking, and outright parenting siblings.
It is very hard for a parentified child to relate to peers. They have been so busy maintaining the emotional and physical needs that the parent has neglected that they have unmet developmental goals. Letting go of feelings of responsibility and playing or being silly can be a challenge.
Art therapy is a powerful therapeutic method for these kids. The art process helps loosen up rigidness and allows for a safe expression of playfulness and exploration. One child who participated in art therapy started out feeling very self critical and afraid to make a mistake. Once she had developed trust with her therapist she was more tolerant to experiment and try new things risking mistakes. To be able to tolerate mistakes is a huge milestone that mirrors the capacity to have self worth regardless of outcomes. Children who parent, tend to have a great need to be the “good” child and have less tolerance for mistakes. This is one way art therapy heals.
Watch for these behaviors:
- Grades are falling
- Not making or keeping friends
- Acting depressed, anxious or uninterested in things
- Overly concerned with siblings following rules
- Overly interested in adults conversations