My 4-year-old refers to himself as me



Literally. Sometimes he will ascribe himself properties I have, and make me the child--he'll say "I'm a grown-up", "You can't sit in the front seat [in our car], it's not safe, I have to sit in the front seat, you have to sit in the back seat." "This is my office. Sorry you can't come in I have work to do." That's cute perhaps but other times he will say "My name is [Eric's Dad]". Last night, he told me that his name was [Eric's Dad] and that he had a four-year-old baby named Eric, who was crying. Eric himself had been earlier. So he is in some way projecting himself onto me. Is this indicative of any kind of dissociative issues? Or is it just 'cute'?

Matt Phillips

Posted 2015-06-04T12:27:49.210

Reputation: 373

10Welcome to ParentingSE. I just wanted to say that your kid sounds awesome! – DanBeale – 2015-06-04T17:44:08.743

4I hope it's normal because my daughter does it too! – stannius – 2015-06-05T00:08:37.360


I guess that's what we call mimicry, and it's normal for children.

– Andrew T. – 2015-06-05T03:40:37.767

35One of our kids once did the "I have to sit up front and drive, you have to sit in the back" thing with me. I just sat her down in the driver's seat, got in the back (with the car keys placed firmly in my pocket), and then started whining because the booster seat was too small, I couldn't find my coffee, etc, etc. After a minute or so she gave me a disgusted look and said, "You sit up here, I'll ride in back and tell you what to do". She's been telling me what to do ever since... :-) – Bob Jarvis – 2015-06-05T12:16:58.497

5I enjoy this stage with my kids. It provides a lot of opportunities to have fun, and a number of teachable moments. – Adam Davis – 2015-06-05T13:15:32.700

3Give him your bills. – corsiKa – 2015-06-05T17:00:13.613

@DanBeale Thanks Dan, I'm actually a longtime SO user under a different account and I would love to see Parenting SE take off. It's an excellent match for the format and there are no shortage of parents out there to benefit and share! – Matt Phillips – 2015-06-05T22:39:57.813

Perhaps he is developing an Oedipus Complex. (Please don't take this comment seriously, this is basically an excuse to prove that my A-level in psychology wasn't a waste of time).

– Pharap – 2015-06-07T10:53:58.630

2My 4-yo daughter has been pregnant almost as long as her mother. It doesn't seem to surprise anyone. (She mostly uses it to get out of eating things she doesn't like because "her baby doesn't like that", something she copied off of her mother, who used it as a joke once) – Erik – 2015-06-08T13:47:10.563

You are his role model, be proud of that. Later he will be Obi-Wan Kenobi, Batman and a secret agent. Sometimes all three at the same time (my children can replay all episodes of Star Wars, each of them having at least 5 roles) – WoJ – 2015-06-05T06:56:55.280



Kids that age learn a lot by imaginative play. It's how they make sense of the world and experiment with different responses to events. Pretending to be an adult is very common. Playing along is a good opportunity to show empathy and teach better responses. You might say,

I'm Eric. I'm sad because I couldn't find my toy. I wonder if I should cry or ask my dad to help me find it.

This is how kids open up to you. Take advantage of it while it's still relatively easy.

Karl Bielefeldt

Posted 2015-06-04T12:27:49.210

Reputation: 32 033

14The example you gave is absolute genius. – Subby – 2015-06-05T15:00:00.063

8Not only does it give him a chance to explore, but this gives Dad a perfect opportunity to try to see life through Eric's eyes. – corsiKa – 2015-06-05T17:01:10.843

1I will try this. Very clever. – Matt Phillips – 2015-06-05T17:59:08.850

@corsiKa Yes, it sounds like a great "teachable moment" for the parent... ;-) – Dronz – 2015-06-06T17:07:52.017


It tells just how much he sees you as role model. Instead of seeing this as abnormal you should be the role model he deserves.

Other than that do understand that this behaviour will stop after some time. You only need to worry if this does not stop and causes complications.

Hope I helped.

P.S.: When I was a child I used to wear my father's army uniform. It made me feel grownup just like him. Now that I am older I feel different but I just want you to know that this is stage all children go through so don't worry.

Abdur Rahman

Posted 2015-06-04T12:27:49.210

Reputation: 469

8Hello Abdur and welcome to the site. Thanks for the good information and personal details, that's often what makes a good answer even better here. – Joe – 2015-06-04T22:21:11.803

2He should be the role model that Eric deserves, but not the one that Eric needs....Sorry that was a terrible Batman joke. – Subby – 2015-06-05T15:00:59.240


I'm not a parent myself, but two points:

1) You could argue that no, it's not just 'cute'. Imagining yourself in someone else's position is the very basis of empathy and all that is worthwhile in humanity :-)

2) Describing himself in the third person, from the POV of you or someone else, can sometimes be a mechanism to put distance between himself and things he's not otherwise able to talk about. In this case, he talked about himself crying in the third person. It's good that he can reflect on this. That's not a dissociative disorder, it's a means of talking about or thinking about strong emotions without reliving them. The same goes if he says there's something wrong with his toy: consider carefully what he's telling you, but first in the spirit of "is this troubling him?" and not "why is he expressing it in this way?".

Dissociative disorders are (loosely) when he loses contact with his identity and feelings, not when he imagines or imitates others, or when he intentionally considers himself as an outsider would. Standard psychiatric advice from a non-specialist: if you're concerned then of course look for combinations of symptoms and for situations where the suspected issue actually causes him problems. Then ask someone who knows what they're talking about and can consider him specifically.

Oh yes, and:

3) He has to sit in the front of the car and you can't go into your office? He knows the rules and he's flagrantly trying to turn them around in his favour. It's a nice try, I bet he's ecstatic every time it works for even a second ;-) Basically he's reinvented the Lord of Misrule. AFAIK this is not in any way unusual, it's common sense to want whatever good stuff he sees that you have.

Steve Jessop

Posted 2015-06-04T12:27:49.210

Reputation: 1 114

I think you're right about this (benign) 'dissociating' as a means of talking about emotions without feeling them. – Matt Phillips – 2015-06-05T17:58:54.263


Is this indicative of any kind of dissociative issues? Or is it just 'cute'?

It may be that it is something other than cute or "broken". It may be a limit of the communication ability.

My 2 year old daughter sometimes speaks, not as things are, but as she wishes they were. She could say "I'm big" or "I'm grown up". She doesn't have the language specialization to communicate well so this gets a little muddled. I find out by asking questions.

Examples from my daughter:

She says: "that is my cupcake"
I say: "it belongs to the store. Would you like to have it"
She says: "yes. Please."
I say "okay"

She says: "I'm all grown up."
I say: "Are you all grown up"
She says (sadly) "No."
I say: "You are growing up so fast. You are so big."
She smiles big, and brightens.

She knows what is, the problem isn't that. the problem is that language is a blunt instrument when you are a 2 year old.

As an aside, I don't believe in broken at that age. In my head there is a substantial difference between "damaged" and "broken" because damaged can be repaired, resolved, and made so things work as well as if nothing had happened while broken means there will always be scars, echoes, and indication, sometimes gross indications, of whatever the system was.


Posted 2015-06-04T12:27:49.210

Reputation: 251

This is a Q&A site (as you are probably aware.) If you can edit your answer to actually address the answer, that would be appreciated. It's a bit long for a comment. – anongoodnurse – 2015-11-09T19:36:50.760