Adults have multiple ways to screw up their interactions with children. Of course, no adult would actually ever want to put off a child, but they end up doing it nonetheless. One sure-shot way of achieving this unintended objective is Infantilization.
What Is Infantilization
Infantilization is treating children as younger than their age. Meaning, a 6-year old kid is treated as a 3-year or a 4-year old. It also refers to teenagers treated as 9/10-year-olds. It also covers people with developmental needs treated as children, when they might even be adults. Basis my experiences as a stay-at-home father, I will limit the discussion to 6-year olds (age of my twin daughters) treated as young kids.
Examples of infantilization can be many. Dumbing down of speech by the adult when talking to kids i.e. speaking in a child-like tone/manner. Asking the parent when the child is capable of answering the query about the self. Deciding on behalf of the child when he/she can decide for the self. Ignoring the child’s opinion. Not allowing the child to do an age-appropriate activity.
In short, treating the child as younger to his/her age. In other words, disregard the child for who he/she is, what is he/she is capable of doing.
Well-Intentioned For Adults
The adult thinks that the child should not feel challenged. The adult deems that the child should be made comfortable and consider protected. So, what better way to do it than to talk/behave like one? Also, there is no point in taking the child’s opinion or letting the child do what he/she wants to do. After all, the kid is just a kid. Toy with him/her for a while and shoo away.
The adult indulging in infantilization feels perfectly entitled to what he/she is doing. If ever asked why, the person will retort why not? The child is being treated like a child. What’s wrong with that? It is done to protect the kid from bad influences and make him/her happy. The adult feels that he/she should be commended for getting down to the level of the child.
In fact, this is the hardest one for an adult to get a message that he/she is spectacularly wrong.
Misplaced For Children
In today’s fast-paced world, kids grow up fast. Their exposure happens at a furious pace. They are capable of doing/knowing things better than their parents. With each passing day, they teach themselves a new aspect of life. After all, their learning environment is everywhere. And infantilization treats them like kids that they were ages ago.
Rather than getting any credit for their abilities, the child gets spoken to as if he/she is learning to walk and speak. The kid wants to be involved in every discussion and if he/she knows, wants to give an opinion and if he/she is unaware, wants to be explained. At the least, the child wants to be heard and the adult just won’t listen to him/her.
As an adult, can you imagine being treated at half of your age, or even worse 1/3rd of your age? Yuck!!
The Child Ages Nowhere
The kid keeps wondering why the adults won’t hear what he/she wants to say, won’t be allowed to do what he/she is adept at doing and to make matters worse, being spoken to childishly. It doesn’t help improve the kid’s self-image. The kid comes out feeling left-out and worse, disrespected after such interactions. It doesn’t contribute to the growing up of the child in any manner.
The child doesn’t like talking to adults indulging in such patronizing behaviour. He/she starts to avoid the particular adult, which actually is a significant part of the adult universe, and that’s about it. The child starts getting labelled as a shy/rebel/difficult to communicate kid and it further deteriorates the situation. It happens over a period of time and it’s all downhill.
The child doesn’t realize, from being treated half his/her age, when he/she is being expected to become mature beyond his age. The child is at a complete loss in the adult’s world.
Dealing With Infantilization
There is an issue on hand – treating children as younger than they are. The adults are well-intentioned and misplaced. I have no idea how to get the message across that the child is mature as per his/her age and that, the adult is immature as per his/her age. That, the child is growing and the adult has stagnated in today’s fast-paced world.
Basis my experience, I find it safer to engage my daughters and get them to take the adult’s behaviour in their stride. I try explaining to them that they are fine for their age and should continue what they are doing. But, it is not at all easy for the kids to deal with the adult’s simultaneous childishness and pompousness.
There is no telling the adult and the kids are not to listen and understand. An act of goodwill by the adult leading to ill results for the kid. Never thought that such would ever happen, but it is what it is.
What are your thoughts on the subject?
PS: I am a stay-at-home father to six-year-old twin daughters, neither an educationist nor an expert, just growing up together with my children. The above thoughts are an expression of parenting is having an opinion, getting involved and trying to better.