Were You Robbed Of A Normal Childhood? Here's How To Emotionally Recover

A therapist suggests three ways to come out of the web of 'parentification.'

By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | November 16, 2022

Many people come to therapy with the realization that they have been forced to grow up too quickly. They may have overheard too many adult conversations. They may have received compliments that made them feel special and included in the world of adults. Comments such as the following can be very traumatic for children:

  • "Oh, you are so wise to come up with solutions to resolve the fight between your parents."
  • "You're so mature for handling a family conflict so well."
  • "Now you know not to make the same mistakes your parents have."

This is an all too common phenomenon known as 'parentification.'

A study published in Current Issues in Personality Psychology defines parentification as the process of role reversal between the child and the parent, whereby the child provides support and acts as the caregiver for the parent, instead of being supported and taken care of.

There are two types of parentification:

  1. Emotional parentification, whereby the child becomes the parents' counselor, confidant, or emotional caretaker.
  2. Instrumental parentification, whereby the child engages in physical labor and support in the household, such as housework, and other adult responsibilities.

Parentification is mostly prevalent in homes where one or both parents are absent, emotionally unavailable, or have addictive behaviors. Children who 'parentify' often grow up too fast and miss out on important childhood development. As a result, they might not learn how to play or how to handle conflict in a healthy way.

Additionally, parentified children often develop an unrealistic sense of responsibility and an exaggerated sense of maturity.

Parentification can have a profound and lasting effect on a child's physical, mental, and emotional health. This can lead to a host of problems in adulthood.

For instance, according to a study published in Journal of Family Psychology, adults who reported parentification during childhood were more likely to report the following:

  • Feelings of being treated unfairly and being discontent with the quality of their homelife
  • Shame and guilt
  • Dependent behavior in adult relationships
  • Difficulty forming and maintaining peer relationships
  • Poor academic and occupational performance
  • Higher levels of depression and anxiety in early adulthood

Here I'll talk about three things you can do to begin the healing process.

#1. Acknowledging your lost childhood is the first step toward healing

Often, the first step to healing is to acknowledge and speak up about the repressed trauma. If you find yourself held back by self-doubts, stop to breathe and remind yourself that the hidden and insidious nature of your trauma does not make your feelings any less valid.

Grieving the loss of a childhood that you deserved but never had is one of the best ways to break out of denial and restore your sense of reality.

#2. Get to know what your inner child wants and learn to nurture it

Find ways to honor your inner child. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to focus on self-care. This means doing things that make you happy and help you relax. Some examples include exercise, spending time in nature, reading, listening to music, and spending time with friends and family members who make you feel good about yourself.

Alternatively, at times, you could try closing your eyes and imagining holding a tender person close to your heart. What would you say to them in their most vulnerable times? Try to direct those tender feelings toward yourself.

You can consider saying things like: "I am sorry about all that you had to go through. You are protected, you are cared for, and I love you."

#3. Focus on your future

Focusing on your future and taking up responsibilities to make it better is not synonymous with denying your present feelings and emotions.

Taking responsibility for our future simply means assessing the damage that was done in the past and mending the fence, bit by bit. Recognize the emotions you are experiencing in relation to the loss and understand that you are your own hero.

When things get overwhelming, repeat to yourself gently: "I am going to take it from here. I am in charge of my own life and well-being. I can take care of myself now through this."


No child should have to grow up too soon. If you are a parentified child who is still carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, it's important to seek help so you can learn to set boundaries and take care of yourself. You don't have to do it alone — there are people who can help you through this difficult time in your life. With the right support, you can heal the trauma of having to grow up too soon and live the life you deserve.