Dealing with a childish adult can be nothing short of stressful, irritating, and sometimes even mind-numbing. A childish adult can truly test your patience, and make you want to pull your hair out at times. But the good news is, there are a few ways with the help of which you can deal with an emotionally immature and childish adult.
In my clinical practice, I primarily treat folks struggling with depression, anxiety, excessive anger, and marriage difficulties. Very often, an underlying issue is that for one reason or another, the client never quite grew up. So many people reach chronological adulthood without having mastered the core elements of adult emotional functioning.
How can you assess if an adult functions emotionally more like a child? As a therapist who works extensively with couples, I have learned that almost any client can look reasonably “adult” when I meet with him or her individually.
By contrast, seeing the same client in a couples therapy session where spouses are interacting gives me vastly more data. Mistaken, immature, and pathological behaviors all become much more visible. I also see the extent to which each partner’s actions are rude, hurtful, or even dangerously childish—or calm, respectful, and maturely adult.
What Is Emotional Age?
A psychologist from Africa with whom I once spoke at an international psychology conference explained to me that in his country, it was common to assess people in terms of both physical age and emotional age.
Physical age can be counted by the number of birthdays. Physical age, especially with children, also tends to correlate with height, strength, and cognitive functioning. Psychological or emotional age, by contrast, becomes evident in emotional reactions and habits. For instance, adults can stay calm whereas children tend to be quicker to anger. Adults exercise careful judgment before talking whereas children may impulsively blurt out tactless, hurtful words.
If toddlers want a car or doll that another child is playing with, they are likely to reach out and take the item. Most preschoolers get mad or cry multiple times every day, even if they are basically well-nurtured and happy kids. The rules of adult play, like taking turns or not grabbing, have not yet begun to shape their behavior. Youngsters do not act in a consistently civil manner because they have not yet internalized the rules of “civilized” adults.
Behaviors that are normal for children however, look childish and rude when adults do them.
Can You Recognize Childish Adult Behavior?
One way to think about how young children differ from emotionally mature adults is to picture kids you know—maybe even your own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and neighbors. How do these children differ from adults that you know and respect?
Before reading my list of characteristics that I look for, you might want to jot down a list of the traits that you noticed in your visualization. Please share with other readers in the comments below this article if you spotted some traits that I missed.
10 Signs of Emotional Childishness
How many of the following signs of emotional immaturity does your list include?
1. Emotional escalations.
Young children often cry, get mad, or outwardly appear petulant and pouting. Grownups seldom do.
When things go wrong, young children look to blame someone. Grownups look to fix the problem.
When there’s a situation that’s uncomfortable, young children might lie to stay out of trouble. Grownups deal with reality, reliably speaking the truth.