Parents-child role reversal in trilogue play: case studies of trajectories from pregnancy to toddlerhood

Attach Hum Dev. 2007 Mar;9(1):17-31. doi: 10.1080/14616730601151425.


Role reversal, whereby a child attempts to meet her parent's adult needs for parenting, intimacy, or companionship, has been identified as a risk factor for developmental disturbances. It has been defined from diverse perspectives as a child attachment strategy, a parent - toddler relational disturbance, and a boundary disturbance between parents and child. The recently discovered infant's triangular capacity, namely the sharing of her attention and affects with both parents, allows one to analyse the infant's contribution to early family dynamics. Role reversal was detected in 4 out of 45 father - mother - infant interactions observed in trilogue play from pregnancy to toddlerhood. The developmental trajectories towards role reversal are explored by means of case analyses. Results are compared with cases of problematic triangulation encountered in the same sample. In role reversal, family interactions are rigidly organized around a "two against one" coalition, whereby the normative hierarchy between parents and child is reversed. The child's triangular capacity is overactivated, controlling the tension between her parents by provocation - animation strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Family Relations*
  • Father-Child Relations
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Play and Playthings / psychology
  • Pregnancy
  • Psychological Theory
  • Psychology, Child*