Childlike vs. Childish

  1. (of an adult) having good qualities associated with a child.


  1. of, like, or appropriate to a child.

No need to wax poetic about this distinction. One of the many goals of parenting, perhaps maybe the most broad and fundamental of all goals, is to help your child distinguish between childlike behavior and childish behavior. One of the most difficult things to discern as a parent is when a child is being a kid and when they’re being wicked. It is difficult because we don’t even have this down ourselves.

I am no advocate of Joel Osteen, but this next part is gonna sound a bit Osteen-ish.

Grumpy & Grumpiness; Anger & Angry; Feeling & Giving-Yourself-Over-To-That-Feeling

joel-osteen-FAMILYDenying that we feel certain emotions is a rampant problem in Christian circles these days. It is taboo to be depressed, to be angry, or to feel any emotion other than what the Osteen family is feeling on their billboards. But there’s something to our choice, a germ of truth in the otherwise treacherous petri dish of Osteen’s experiment.

You see, we often feel grumpy, angry, sad, jokey, and many other emotions (see the Psalms for a full list). This is not the problem. Emotion is the lifeblood of humanity, and at its best, reflects the depth of our deep-feeling God and what he has imaged into us. But like anything, emotions can be twisted, can take control, and lead us into all sorts of trouble.

Yes, we feel grumpy (see morning: pre-coffee, pre-shower, or pre-breakfast… for everyone); no problem. But we choose to live in a state of grumpiness. We feel the burn of anger (see many bedtime routines with toddlers); no problem. We choose to be angry and to let anger wash over all of our faculties. I often feel jokey. I choose to insert-sarcastic-comment-here at the worst of all possible times. Childishness, in all of us turns us inward towards despair and hopelessness. Child-likeness, turns us outward to the glory of God and the good of our neighbor (child, sibling, other).

Most of the time, these choices are simple. They are never simplistic. Every moment can’t be nor should it be Your Best Life Now. There are a myriad of other factors that come into play: hormones, chemical imbalances in the brain, family history, environment, and I could go on forever. Indeed, many times these legitimate ingredients in the mixture of our present emotional state seem overwhelming, but even still, we need not be ruled by external (or internal) factors. Grieving the loss of a child should not be glossed over with God-speak, and will likely make your default level of happiness much lower for the rest of your life. We are broken people living in a broken world, and Christ has made us his beloved.

Turn from the Childish, to the Childlike (not the Adult)

In raising children, we must be always alert to the distinction between the childish and the childlike. Indeed, boys should be crazy-energetic, single-minded, and running themselves dizzy. Children who are exhausted, who’ve missed a nap or are drained from childlike insanity shouldn’t be punished for behaving like tired kids behave at bedtime (more on that in an upcoming post). They need structure, they need authority, not an angry (or principled—for the godly) dose of discipline (butt-spanking) to settle down.

We don’t want to drain the child-likeness out of our kids. Go stomp in a puddle in the pouring rain, instead of training your kids how to be melancholy like many adults are on rainy days. Go make a mess in the kitchen while baking some cookies, because it’s cool to have flour on your face. Teach your child what it means to speak with self control and to love their neighbor; to put away the childish selfishness that creeps up inside all of us. But don’t mistake childlike behavior (stomping in puddles) for the childish.

Read an imaginative story today and bask in the God-given childlike wonder that surges through all of Creation.

Put away childish things, even if just for a moment, and be thankful that Christ doesn’t count our external (or internal—adult) tantrums against us.