May 30, 2024

Childish or Childlike?

We all have an “inner child,” don’t we? Sometimes it’s curious and investigating. And sometimes it’s mischievous and rebellious. Sometimes it just loves unconditionally (puppies and kittens come to mind), and sometimes it functions like a paranoid schizophrenic (temper tantrums).

Who are you when your child takes over? Jekyll or Hyde?

Most of us have the ability to be—and history of being—both Jekyll and Hyde. But why do we present ourselves so differently? It’s my experience that your “inner child” exists both in your Knower/Judger and your Learner/Researcher (but not in both at the same time). When you tap into that child, your behavior will be either childish or childlike, depending on whether you’re operating from your K/J or your L/R.

As we age, our world teaches us the “rules of life.” We all learn them differently based on our families, communities, schools, churches, etc. In this way, our K/Js develop and then essentially run our lives. The K/J becomes the autopilot that simplifies our reactions to stimuli. We inherently know how to react to things. The older we get, it seems, the more entrenched these rules become.

Psychologists agree that most of these rules are ingrained by the time we reach the ripe old age of six or seven. We know our “place” on the playground. We know our family’s “place” in society. We learn the rules about money, relationships, power, etc. very early in life. We’re not children, in the purest sense of the word, very long. Our developed K/Js help us feel good about doing and accomplishing the things we’ve learned that are “right.” Conversely, we learn to feel negatively about the things we do or accomplish that our rules tell us are “wrong.”

Think about the parent rules you’re carrying around right now.

  • Finish your plate.
  • Go along to get along.
  • Can’t fight city hall.
  • Obey.
  • You’ll never amount to anything.

The messages we internalize very early really do affect us for the rest of our lives unless we become aware of them and decide to change them. But that’s fuel for another article.

Suffice it to say, these rules help produce reactions that can appear childish. We may be adults, but when something occurs that we don’t like, we can appear childish, arguing, throwing temper tantrums. Road rage occurs. Prejudices take over.

A typical childish behavior is to use phrases like “It’s not fair!” and “If such and such happens, I’ll just die!” We engage in such behavior when we see that some K/J rule we’ve internalized has been broken and our (normally high) expectation has not been met.

Childlike behavior, on the other hand, hearkens back to the time when we actually were children…with few cultural boundaries, free to behave spontaneously without worrying about whether or not we broke some rule.

Picture yourself before the rules took over. Innocent. Trusting. Fun-loving. Loving in general. Childlike.

People operating in their L/Rs tend to appear childlike. But it’s not easy. You have to ignore your rules and the answers they give you so you can hear new data and have new ideas. As we age, acting childlike seems to become more difficult even though we may see benefits.

If you’re having trouble telling whether you or someone else is acting childish or childlike, think of Dr. Wayne Dyer’s advice: “When given the choice of being right or kind—choose kind.”

Being right and defending your opinion comes from your K/J. That outward defense of your position is childish.

Being kind is the only reaction a newborn (without K/J rules) has. Innately childlike.

Observe interaction at your house, in your office, or in some social environment and watch the “inner children” of the participants. Childish or childlike? And then ask yourself the old Dr. Phil question: “How’s that workin’ for ya?”


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