A few years ago, I took a psychology class as an elective to fill in the time between two other classes. In our second class. we talked about the roles each child plays in the family. I was intrigued by this concept. I have always been interested in how in a “control” environment such as a home where everyone gets the same message how each party internalizes that messages differently.

We discussed that in order to make a dysfunctional family function (which is basically every family), each child takes on different emotional responsibilities. Each child knows since birth what role they place and how they contribute to the unit. Now as a parent, wouldn’t it be nice to know what role your child plays? To better communicate with them.

Now, like most theories, this is not set in stone. Please don’t stereotype yourself or your child. This is just a tool to understand the dynamics in your family.

role play in family


Mascot: This role tends to be taken by the youngest child. The mascot can break the family tension with a joke and tends to be deemed, “the cute one”. This role reminds me of that song “The Tears of Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Someone that seems happy but is sad. The mascot, on outside tends to look carefree, happy, funny, and charming, but on the inside he or she can feel lost, fearful, anxious and guilty. It’s important to validate the mascot’s feelings. All they want is to be taken seriously, and not always have to be the “cute” one.

Lost Child: This role tends to be taken by the middle child or maybe the third child. They love spending time alone, and tend to be called the “dreamer”. They rarely get in trouble. On the outside they tend to look creative, independent and most importantly agreeable. I picture this child as the quiet artist. They don’t cause problems but are not attention seekers. So they tend to get lost in the crowd. Some of the negative feelings the Lost Child can feel are powerless, isolated, and fragility. The Lost Child needs positive attention – this is very important, so let me say it again, POSITIVE ATTENTION. They also need encouragement to take chances. They might be a wonderful baseball player, and could get on the Varsity team as a sophomore but are too scared to try out. They need that one person to encourage them.

Scapegoat: This role tends to be taken by the middle child or the second child. We all know this kid. They are, for better or worse, the “trouble maker”. Now you see, the scapegoat child lets the family focus on his/her negative habits instead of focusing on the family negative habits. On the outside they seem tough, defiant, and rebellious. An example is they fail out of school. But remember this child can feel like a misfit and misunderstood. The Scapegoat needs to hear COMPLIMENTS! They need your permission to succeed. But unlike the Lost Child, they need STRUCTURE. They don’t need “you are a wonderful artist” and can build from them. They need, “you are a great artist, let’s sign you up for some classes. What classes do you want to take? Oh look here is one every Tuesday at 3pm.” See the difference? This is how they take your compliment seriously.

Hero: This role tends to be taken by the eldest child. They do everything their parents want them to. On the outside, they look strong, capable, creative and yes maybe a little arrogant. Their role is to make the family look good, (you know, no pressure). On the inside, they can have a deep fear of failure along with numbness, sadness and anger. The anger is important to acknowledge as the Hero child may feel angry that all the pressure is on them. The Hero child needs to feel that is okay to not be perfect. They need permission to play and plenty of opportunities to express themselves. For example if your Hero child gets a B instead of A, show the same amount of enthusiasm because they are already beating themselves up on the inside.

Again, this is just one theory. I am personally left with a lot of questions. What about the gender of the child? What if the family is blended? What if the family only has two children? But I think this is a healthy tool to use when talking to your children and shoot, even your partners. What role did they play in their family? Does it affect them now?

So many questions. But hey may your family continue to be a beautiful ugly mess.

Hugs and Smiles,