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