Character Development: Children’s Roles: Lost Child

Creating a Lost Child for your story can help make a character more realistic in the eyes of the reader.

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What are Children’s Roles?

Children’s roles are a specific set of coping mechanisms that children tend to develop throughout chaotic situations in their childhood. This could include the loss of a parent, a family struggle with addiction, or even a move to a new place.

The four major roles are Family Hero, Scapegoat, Lost Child, and Mascot. Most children have played these roles at various points throughout their lives, but some kids get “stuck” in one of these roles and it can be problematic for them as they grow older. However, while they are in the midst of the chaos (parent loses a job, being severely bullied at school, parents divorce, etc.), these behaviors are how they cope with the pain.

What’s a Lost Child Like?

A Lost Child is often referred to as ‘the quiet one,’ ‘wallflower’, or ‘independent.’ You may have seen, heard of, been friends with, or even been a Lost Child yourself. Let’s use the example of a single, alcoholic mother once again. She loses her job due to her consistent drunkenness and decides to drown her sorrows in yet more alcohol. As noted in previous posts, this means that bills are not being paid, clothes are not being washed, groceries are not being purchased, and so on. The household containing her and her 4 children is in chaos. While the Family Hero is filling in as a pseudo-parent, the Scapegoat is doing the exact opposite, and the Lost Child is finding ways to get their needs met while drawing as little attention to themselves as possible.

The Lost Child may spend most of their day doing something that helps this disconnect from reality including reading (me), playing video games (me again), writing (once again, me), or browsing the internet (yep, me). This child wants to distance themselves from the painful living conditions that their family provides. They may see the Family Hero as working too hard, see the Scapegoat as getting too much negative attention, and just wants to blend into the background so that they can be left alone.

Human beings are some of the most social animals on the planet. We crave human contact and attention from birth. The Family Hero gets their attention from their peers and the accolades they get from others who see them “doing so well.” The Scapegoat gets their attention from getting into trouble or joining a gang. However, the Lost Child does not seek attention. Where a Family Hero strives for As and a Scapegoat may flunk out of school completely, a Lost Child wants to do well enough that they don’t get in trouble for getting horrible grades, but don’t get singled out for having great grades. This child strives to do work that is passing and nothing more.

The Lost Child may be left behind on a family vacation or have their names routinely forgotten by people the go to school with (including teachers). Being consistently quietly busy by themselves, these children are often seen as “low maintenance.” If mom is passed out on the couch and the Family Hero went downtown to bail the Scapegoat out of jail, the Lost Child would simply forge a signature on the permission they need for tomorrow, make themselves a sandwich, grab a soda out of the fridge, and spend the remainder of the night in their room watching television after completing their homework with careful mediocrity.

This child makes it easy to forget that there is another responsibility in the house that is not being met by the mother. This child offers relief to the chaos of the family situation because they don’t add any extra stress. The mother in this scenario does not have to be concerned at all about the Lost child.

While many parents used to attempting to manage multiple, rambunctious children may see the Lost Child as a blessing, these children are commonly deeply troubled. Many of the young people who have been notorious for committing mass shootings at schools would be considered a Lost Child.

Habitually pulling away from in-person relationships means that they can develop a warped expectation of control in relationships. In the virtual world, if someone posts a video they don’t like or writes something negative about them, they can not watch the video again, go to another site, or even shut down the computer or smart phone completely. This means that they find safety and normalcy in removing themselves from interactions with other humans beings in the simplest ways possible. Sometimes severe bullying or exclusion can lead to them believing that death (of themselves, their peers, or both) is the most efficient end to the strife caused by being in any kind of relationship with someone who is hurting them in some way.

Less drastically, this child may never learn how to develop healthy coping, communication, and other interpersonal skills so that they can maintain friendships or even date. Until they are offered skills training, therapy, or even just a self-help book, they may never be able to heal and begin to have healthy views of themselves, other people, and human relationships in general.

Lost Children as Adults

If the single, alcoholic mother of four goes to treatment for her addiction and gets some treatment for her children, they may be able to wrench themselves loose from these roles. However, if this doesn’t happen, it’s very easy for a child’s personality/sense of self and their role in this chaotic situation to become enmeshed.

When this happens, the Lost Child becomes an adult who searches for ways to get their needs met while keeping human interaction as low as possible. This person is often called ‘quiet’ or ‘shy’ and accused of having ‘no personality’ or being ‘boring.’ Because they equate human relationships with pain, they are likely to live alone (maybe with their original family under certain circumstances).

The notion of finding gainful employment may seem daunting, but they will try to find a way to do “background” work (such as working backstage at a theater, working behind the scenes of a television show, being a grocery stock member, being an office building janitor, etc.) or solo work (writing, video transcription, copy editing, etc.).

Starting a family is often the furthest thing from this person’s mind because they don’t want to risk falling into the type of chaos that the experienced as a child. They are likely to masturbate regularly as opposed to attempting to find a consenting sexual partner. They may pay for sex as well, but this may be relatively rare since it involves another human being.

 

Lost Children / Wallflowers in Fiction

This character is often the one who has no idea that someone is attracted to them and would run scared if they knew anyway. Someone trying to show / teach them that not all human interaction is painful might make for a good romance or romantic portion of a story.

This character would be much more likely to rely on WebMD and YouTube videos for any minor or moderate medical conditions.

Because they like to work solo or in the background, they will rarely (if ever) be a celebrity of any kind. They will stay on top of their finances just enough to not get called by bill collectors, but not enough to get solicited by American Express. If they did fall on hard times for some reason, they would likely do without various things (even food) or go to a formal financial institution before they would think to attempt relying on someone close to them to help them out with a loan.

This character is likely to be highly socially awkward and visibly uncomfortable in group settings (sweating, eyes glued to the floor, never putting their phone down, etc.).

Having a Lost Child character with a realistic backstory can add depth to your piece and possibly offer some extra paths for your to explore with it comes to how your character will behave in new situations they run into in your story.

Stay gready, Friends!

 

Character Development: Children’s Roles: Scapegoat

Creating a Scapegoat for your story can help make characters more realistic in the eyes of the reader.

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What are Children’s Roles?

Children’s roles are a specific set of coping mechanisms that children tend to develop throughout chaotic situations in their childhood. This could include the loss of a parent, a family struggle with addiction, or even a move to a new place.

The four major roles are Family Hero, Scapegoat, Lost Child, and Mascot. Most children have played these roles at various points throughout their lives, but some kids get “stuck” in one of these roles and it can be problematic for them as they grow older. However, while they are in the midst of the chaos (parent loses a job, being severely bullied at school, parents divorce, etc.), these behaviors are how they cope with the pain.

 

What’s a Scapegoat Like?

A Scapegoat is often referred to as ‘the bad one,’ ‘Bebe’s kid,’ or ‘the black sheep.’ You may have seen, heard of, been friends with, or even been a Scapegoat yourself. Let’s use the example of a single, alcoholic mother again. She loses her job due to her consistent drunkenness and decides to drown her sorrows in yet more alcohol. As noted in previous posts, this means that bills are not being paid, clothes are not being washed, groceries are not being purchased, and so on. The household containing her and her 4 children is in chaos. While the Family Hero is filling in as a pseudo-parent, the Scapegoat is doing the exact opposite.

The Scapegoat may spend most of the day sleeping, rarely making it to school on time or at all. This kid just wants to get away from the stressful situation that is being part of this family. They may see the Family Hero working their ass off attempting to keep everything together (as a parent and a child) and doesn’t want to put themselves through that kind of stress. They will often do things to get attention that are considered problematic, such as getting pregnant as a teenager, using drugs, joining gangs, committing crimes, or bullying or being generally violent and abusive towards others (including family members). They are likely to struggle with their academics and may even flunk out of school. The Scapegoat will often come home late at night or not at all since they may find more comfort and stability with their pimp, gang leader, etc.

Their destructive and problematic behavior makes it more difficult for the focus to be on the central problem of mom’s alcoholism. People within the family and outside the family might think, “There lives would be so much better if Sheena would just get her act together.” The mother may not realize how much of a burden is lifted off of them when the Scapegoat’s problems overshadow her own.

Scapegoats get the attention that all children crave, but they get it for getting expelled, breaking laws, or getting arrested. The mother might often berate the Scapegoat: “What is wrong with you?” “Why can’t you grow up?” “Your brother’s never acted like this!” “You’re the worst most ungrateful child I’ve ever seen!”

Therefore, even though the Scapegoat does things that a problematic, it begins to feel comfortable as they take on the labels that they are fitted with by schools, law enforcement, family members, friends, and classmates. Their behavior is often an outlet for feelings of rage that they are not having their basic needs met by their family unit and have had to look outside the family for feelings like love, connectedness, and appreciation. Until they are offered a self-help group, non-judgmental companions, or therapist, these feelings may never be directly expressed in a healthy manner.

 

Scapegoats as Adults

If the single, alcoholic mother of four goes to treatment for her addiction and gets some treatment for her children, they may be able to wrench themselves loose from these roles. However, if this doesn’t happen, it’s very easy for a child’s personality/sense of self and their role in this chaotic situation to become enmeshed.

When this happens, the Scapegoat keeps looking for new ways to be ‘the black sheep’ in different situations. This person is often called a ‘career criminal’ as an adult, but could also be noted as an unmotivated ‘pot head’ or other drug addict. They’ve given in to the feelings of helplessness that have surrounded them in their chaotic family and decided not to fight against it, but just to ignore the core issues that caused it.

Sometimes the idea of getting a job is unattractive to them because it means following rules, having a boss, and having to be somewhere on a consistent basis throughout the week (i.e., too much work). So the Scapegoat may find ways to make money that don’t take a lot of effort or oversight (selling guns or drugs, doing odd jobs when they feel like it, etc.)

Sometimes the idea of having a family isn’t appealing because they don’t want to end up back in a family like the one they grew up in. Therefore, the Scapegoat might intentionally remain single, though they may have many ‘sex buddies’ available to them.

Scapegoats / Career Criminals / Burnouts in Fiction

This character is often the one who attempts to keep potential love interests at bay. They may have sex with them, but that’s as far as it goes. A love interest trying to break down this emotional wall could make a strong romance.

This character may not believe that they can rely on people in the medical community, so health problems as “solved” with drugs or simply ignored. Good for a tragedy.

Due to an inconsistent work history, this person may have accrued some debt that can follow them and cause problems between them and others when bill collectors call, items are repossessed, or the character borrows money that they cannot (or have no intention to) pay back.

This character is apt to see people who are industrious (such as the Family Hero) as “suckers” working for “the man.”

Having a character who is a Scapegoat with a realistic backstory can add depth to your work and maybe even offer you some extra avenues to explore when it comes to how they will behave in the new situations they come across in your story.

 

Stay gready, Friends!

 

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