Casting our Kids in Roles that build self-awareness and self-esteem

Tanya Kemp

Siblings fighting is almost as much of a certainty as death and taxes. However, there really are some things we can do to try to prevent at least some of the fighting through the way in which we set up family life. We play a decisive role in preventative maintenance in order to create more opportunities for harmony in the home. 

Something that creates lasting problems for our kids, both individually and in relationship to their siblings, is the tendency to assign children certain ‘roles’. One might be ‘the caretaker’, the other ‘the baby’, one may be ‘the quiet one’ or ‘the responsible one’, or ‘the easy one’ or ‘the trouble-maker’, or ‘the smart one’. We further may identify our kids as ‘the scholar’, ‘the musician’, ‘the athlete’, ‘the artist’, ‘ the joker’ or ‘the talented one’. The list is endless. Think about it, even for yourself…what role did YOU have in your family of origin and how did it affect you? 

Assigning our kids roles is, at best, not helpful in helping them do and achieve what their heart desires and at worse, causes lasting and serious damage.  You have them pegged and they start to behave in a way that affirms their role – however limiting that may be!

So how do we do things differently?

Begin to treat your children, not as they are, but as you hope they will become. 

What DO you hope for your children to become? 

If you have a child who has been cast as ‘the aggressor’, perhaps you can recognise that he/she also has the capacity to be kind, to negotiate and control his impulses. THOSE are the qualities to affirm. If one child is ‘the victim’….you can affirm his/her ability to stand up for him/herself, express his/her feelings and ask for what he/she needs. If one child is ‘the one who struggles’ because of ASD for example, you can choose to focus on resilience, ability and competence in your interactions with him/her and around siblings.

Children can begin to put themselves in roles and can give their siblings roles as well. One child might see themselves as ‘the good one’ because the other child is always causing trouble. That is an enormous amount of pressure for ‘the good one’ to bear. Yet they will stay in that role, because it is enforced by themselves, their parents and their siblings. They can become as resentful of their parents as they do of their siblings for having to be ‘the good one’. ‘The troublemaker’ will, in turn, give you all the trouble he can manage to warrant his label and a vicious cycle continues.

How we speak to our kids can release them of the roles whether assigned by us, themselves or their siblings, and empower them to be all the things they need to be, in order to become who they are. In real life we need to assume many roles…and the family home is the place where we are prepared for that.

Action Points:

Discuss with your partner the roles that your children take on in the family home and the impact of this. Perhaps you as parents also have ‘roles’? Discuss your own role in your family home growing up and the impact of that.

Now think about your kids in terms of what you want them to become. How might this change the way you address them in times of crisis, when they’re acting out their role, and in relationship to their siblings?


Construct a makeshift slide down the stairs in your house. We did this in South Africa with a mattress which worked really well and kept Lily and her cousins HAPPILY occupied for hours. The dog enjoyed it too ☺


I found this example of a cardboard slide online and it looks pretty fun too. It could be a great collaborative project for siblings and parents to work on together. 


You will need:

You will also need a soft surface to land on. We had carpet and some pillows on the floor.

Open your cardboard boxes and put them on the stairs lengthwise. We used 2 boxes to keep it more sturdier. Make sure to put the ‘slidy’ box on top so the slide will be smoother. Tape ONLY 1 SIDE of the box to the wall. The other side leave it not taped, so the kids can lift it up and go up the stairs million times for another slide.


What is an act of self-compassion and self-care that you can take today that is neither self-denial nor self-indulgence?