With numbers on the rise, parentification is coming to light in the conversation of family dynamics. This role reversal that some children are facing with their parents is negatively impacting their development and carrying into a maladaptive adulthood. The two types of parentification have different impacts, but neither seem to yield much positivity. It becomes very important that parents and children remain in their appropriate roles so children can go through the stages of life in a developmentally appropriate manner. 


Parentification is a term used to describe the process where “children are assigned the role of an adult, taking on both emotional and functional responsibilities that typically are performed by the parent”. The term can be broken down into subtypes. Instrumental parentification is labeled when the child is given functional duties of the parent such as grocery shopping and paying bills. With more detrimental outcomes, emotional parentification describes when the child is expected to provide the emotional and psychological needs of a parent (Engelhardt 2012).

Consequences of Parentifying a Child

Often, when a child goes through parentification, they continue to take on more and more responsibility for the parent in efforts to receive praise or attention. This can escalate to the child disregarding their own needs and tasks for the parents’ (Engelhardt 2012).

In both research and common discussion of parentification, it is found several times that a main consequence of this process is attachment issues for the child. Insecure attachment has cascading effects on behavior, emotional regulation, and more that can continue into problem behaviors in adulthood. Specifically, there appears to be a link between maternal behaviors and parentification. Mothers who were themselves parentified during their childhood are less warm towards their children and often push parentification on their own. This results in externalizing behavior problems in children that are found to follow them into adulthood and even, then, their own families (Nutall et. al, 2012). This research further reinforces the need to look at the big picture of family dynamics because one detrimental relationship can have a snowball effect. 

Other issues that may arise as a result of parentification include:

  • Extreme anxiety over abandonment and loss
  • Difficulty handling rejection and disappointment
  • Depression 
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Mental health issues
  • Trauma/PTSD

Series Navigation

The Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series highlights several early childhood topics to support parents and caregivers who are caring for young children. Use the list below to navigate through each series topic:

Learn more about the series.

Request free printed materials from our Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series.


Picture: A young baby looks up at the camera.
Line separator