27
Sep
11

childish vs childlike

Reader S. M. writes:

People have been accusing me recently of being childish. I don’t think I’m childish; I think I’m fun. What’s the difference so I can enlighten my accusers?

Dear S.M.:

I think we need to make a distinction here between acting childlike as opposed to childish. Acting childlike includes all the things we enjoy children doing; being childish is all the crap we hate that children do. People who are childish actually can’t tell the difference. So if your accusers are childish themselves, they’re probably accusing you of the same, because they’re impatient and annoyed by anyone who isn’t in line with their ideals of adulthood.

Slide down my rainbow into my cellar door and we'll be jolly friends forevermore more

Kids love rainbows! Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In my opinion, being childlike is actually ideal. In fact, various religions promote being childlike — Buddhism for one, and even Christianity with that whole “faith like a child” thing. People who are childlike are definitely fun, but also calming, innocent, and interesting.

People who are childish are not.

So here’s a list of the childlike (traits we like in children) and the childish (traits we hate in children). Check off which ones you’re showcasing at any given moment, and decide for yourself if you’re being one or the other. (If you’re being childish, you might try working on being more childlike.)

CHILDLIKE: Boundless curiosity. People who are childlike never quit asking questions about the world around them. They want to know why things are the way they are, how things work, and where things go, and every answered question leads to a million new ones. It’s a purely innocent desire to know the truth, rather than the more adult drive to prove someone else wrong.

CHILDISH: Inability to comprehend. Have you ever watched a kid just NOT get something, over and over? Something so easy to understand, like gravity or liquid volume, and yet somehow the kid just can’t change their worldview enough to grasp it. The kid has an excuse — it takes time to learn certain things, and there are stages of development. Adults, however, don’t have that excuse — we’re all capable of comprehension and learning, but many of us just avoid it. Being stuck in your own worldview with absolutely no curiosity to learn anything new is a very boring problem to have.

CHILDLIKE: Unselfconsciousness. If you ever get a chance to see really little kids (I’m talking 4-year-olds or younger) performing at a dance recital or musical, take that chance and treasure it. Kids have absolutely no concept of how dumb they look doing something, so they’ll just do it, right along with the rest of the group, as best they can. They’ll wear whatever costume you put on them and just give it a whirl.  They’ll sing their hearts out, even though it’s all off key and off beat. Childlike adults don’t care what other people think — they do what they do without batting an eyelash, whether it’s sing karaoke, wear bright colors, or dance at a wedding. They don’t care how they look; they care that they’re having fun and trying.

CHILDISH: Crippling fear. When I was about eight years old, my grandfather took my sister and I to a haunted house fundraiser for the local high school. After he’d paid our entry fee, we started to go in… and I just couldn’t. Even though I knew rationally this was a fun house built by teenagers, I couldn’t bring myself to walk through it, for fear of what lay ahead. You watch children be afraid of jumping in the pool or riding a bike and you think how much of their lives they’ll miss out on if they don’t get over that. Childish adults are crippled by this kind of fear — fear of rejection, fear of the future, fear of commitment, fear of the unknown, and even though they could probably rationally talk themselves out of it, they just can’t seem to do it.

CHILDLIKE: Selflessness. Sometimes children do the most selfless things ever, without even thinking about an impending reward. As babies, they flirt with you just to see your reaction. They share everything they have, offering you the food in their hands, just to see what happens. This is partnered with their lack of self-conciousness to make them utterly charming.

CHILDISH: Lack of empathy. Young children actually have no concept of another’s feelings or sentience, and so they can be completely, destructively selfish. They throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want. Kids grow out of it. Adults with no empathy readily engage in similar tantrums over not getting what they want. These are the road ragers, the guy yelling at the old man in the TSA line at the airport for not taking off his shoes, the impatient asshole in line behind you at the coffee shop. No empathy, no patience, completely childish and unbearable.

CHILDLIKE: Making everything a game. Kids just want to have fun, and therefore, they will find the fun in anything. Even in the absence of video games or technological gadgets, kids will pick up sticks, leaves, and dirt to play with, or just invent an imaginary kingdom all to themselves. They play all the time. And they laugh at everything. Childlike adults find the humor in things, and will invent fun if none exists around them.

CHILDISH: Being bored. Kids who are used to being stimulated all the time often complain of being bored. Without a video game console in front of them, they suddenly lack the imagination to make up a game of their own, and they whine about it. Adults who get bored are often similarly incapable of finding stimulation within themselves. Sometimes old adages are true: only the boring get bored.

CHILDLIKE: Honesty, at the risk of sounding or looking stupid. Kids who admit they don’t know something, or don’t like something, or feel sad about something, are awesome. Adults who aren’t afraid of being honest are similarly awesome. Honesty about feelings is probably most lacking in our adult society — whether it’s love, hate, fear, or sadness we’re feeling, we often won’t express it.

CHILDISH: Lying to hide something embarrassing or incriminating. Little kids who deny that they’ve done something, even though it’s obvious to everyone around them that they did it, are vexing. Adults who do it go to jail most of the time. People who can’t own up to their mistakes just get into more trouble in the long run.

So, dear readers, what goes on your lists of childlike vs childish behavior?

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1 Response to “childish vs childlike”


  1. 1 Robin
    June 23, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Being childlike is the ability to have fun with the ordinary, the everyday.

    Childlike people will cry because they feel sad, even if they’re the only ones in the room. Childish people don’t cry unless there’s other people around to see it.


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