It’s normal for children to be both, child-like as well as childish. In fact, it’s their nature. It is odd when a child behaves more like a little adult in ways that are highly age-inappropriate. “Childish” connotes a negative comparison to a young child such as with a teenager who throws a tantrum like might be more expected in a two-year-old. Yet being child-like in certain ways is a positive thing, even for adults at times. We are taught that to have a child-like faith is a good thing, with the trust and wonder and awe of children directed toward our Savior, Jesus Christ.
“And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'”
Being around children can often help us adults reclaim the child-like view that is so invigorating.
Yet children are also inherently childish. These are more negative traits that we might expect they would “grow out of” as children get older and prior to adulthood. Yet being taught and trained is part of the work of adults as is being teachable the work of children. Childishness is (1) expected of children, but not always desirable and (2) to be understood as normal yet not permanent in normal development. Even in delayed development, we should work to help children put away the negative childishness to the extent that they are able.
1 Corinthians 13:11
” When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
With once orphans, children from hard places as it were, the teachable part may be severely lacking. So remaining childish long after one would expect these traits to be gone or at least greatly diminished, some children display behaviors more typical of much younger children for much longer. Alternatively, they may exhibit attitudes and behaviors more fitting to a much older person. It is sometimes said that their emotional age and chronological age do not match. This can be a helpful way to look at it when trying to interact with, be more understanding and helpful to one of the children with social/emotional delays. And though you may then take a different approach, similar to how you would with a much younger child, I think it is similarly important to remember the goal of helping them gain the emotional maturity and social appropriateness that they are missing out on. The danger lies in allowing their delays, gaps or disabilities to be an excuse for not progressing to the degree and at the level that they are able.
Rather than having an all or nothing approach adults in the child’s life need to be aware of the limitations and make needed adjustments in their approach to discipline and training. Plus: Re-adjustments may need to be made frequently as well, as you reassess how the child is doing and as new situations and opportunities come up. Though it is a lot of work, this type of thorough planning with all the adults in the child’s circle may help tremendously. It will not be a magic wand and will sometimes seem insufficient. Dealing with the persistent childishness of children who are much older can wear down an adult parent, teacher or caregiver and instead of enjoying the child-like view alongside them we may get cynical and despondent, going through the motions without much felt connection or even more childish ourselves mirroring their behaviors.
Having homeschooled for many, many years we are just getting into the world of IEPs with the school system, but my understanding is that this is the place to bring up these type issues and collaborate on strategies to incorporate into a workable plan for each child in the school setting. As a homeschooler, I have also prepared personal IEPs for our own private use which addresses emotional and developmental concerns and a plan to incorporate specific strategies for each child. I recommend doing an assessment regularly as well, for school as well as regarding home and other settings as they may differ considerably. Medical issues may contribute and overlap significantly with any emotional/social/ behavioral issues and your plans may need to be made with input from your medical practitioners.
A daily journal (paper or digital) can track patterns and be a good memory jogger for assessment time. Planning how to respond to repetitive behaviors can help parents and caregivers be prepared and also to learn what strategies work best.
There is a whole lot of advice, some good and some not so good, and some just might not be the right fit or best timing for your and your child’s current needs. List some to try out and give it a go for a set time then reassess.
A few examples to start with:
Concerning behavior: Child often tantrums when they are faced with unexpected changes.
Childish or Child-like: Depending on age and degree of behavior this behavior could be normal developmentally or not. It may be childish or simply child-like in that young children have a more limited understanding and may not have expected a change (like a change in routine for a holiday) that an older person likely would. Thinking about the root of the behavior can give more clues, but that may remain a mystery and you are left with guesswork. My suggestion is to assume it is child-like at first and respond with strategies aimed at helping them developmentally to deal with the changes while preventing the tantrum by better preparation and understanding ahead of time.
Trial Strategy: Does your child need a lot of prep time or a little? Test how much is enough and how much is too much. Do they need help with breaking down the steps of the transition (“time to clean up and go” becomes “let’s get ready to go in a few minutes. You can begin by putting these toys on the shelf. Would you like me to help you? I will have your coat ready when you are done putting the toys away. Then we can say goodbye”).
When there are transitions that are unexpected even to the adult, having thought through what your child needs will help think on your feet and give help rather than get caught up in reacting to their tantrum. When changes are unexpected to the adult, let the child know that you wish you could have let them know sooner and assure them they can handle it while calmly helping them as much as possible talking them through each step matter of factly (“That’s a surprise that the restaurant is closed for remodeling but there is another one nearby we can eat at. You will have a choice of burgers instead of pizza. If I had known I would have told you sooner but that’s life. I know you like pizza but we can all eat burgers today.”)
Concerning behavior: Child demonstrates lack of social appropriateness
Childish or Child-like: Again, it may be either or both. Children are not little adults and have a different level of what is appropriate in their eyes. (Burping contests may be appropriate between a couple of 10-year olds but not for their dad’s business meeting).
Trial Strategy: If they are simply not catching on, then more deliberate modeling and being more deliberate to draw their attention to appropriate conduct may be a good strategy. Using role play and having them actually act out the appropriate behavior can give them practice and confidence. Pick one or two areas such as greetings and introductions to work on and then review every so often as needed.
Concerning behavior: Difficulty connecting the dots, does not connect cause and effect
Childish or Child-like: It may be child-like even in an older child whose capability to connect cause and effect is developmentally delayed due to trauma or other causes. It may be due to mistrust or a real lack of understanding.
Trial strategy: Communicate consequences clearly and closely relate consequences to the reason for it. (Example – “Good job” becomes “You followed directions and completed your assignment without any errors” and “You should know better” becomes “I am disappointed that you chose to hit instead of getting an adult’s help. You hit, you sit until I decide you may join us again.”)
Letting go of the “should’s” enough to deal with the current state of things doesn’t mean we don’t work to help things get better with and for our children. But it does help us step back and assess how things really are, get a grip, and set up a workable plan to move forward. Children are children, not little adults, yet constantly helping them in moving toward adulthood while enjoying their childhood and is a good goal to keep in mind. While managing difficult behaviors can be a huge accomplishment, we need to be careful that we are facilitating our children’s move through developmental stages to mature as well as they can rather than staying stuck. Just because a delay is there doesn’t mean that one day it won’t just click and be a huge leap of progress in an area you had been working on for some time. Reviving your positive, child-like qualities can model a positive outlook for your child and help you both.
Real life is often emotional and kid’s from hard places often have overwhelming emotions. As a parent I want to help my children learn to use positive coping skills and give them helpful tools. We have begun using some fantastic natural products in our family that make a big difference in helping kids cope with overwhelming emotions, to manage and focus.
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