Infantilization - Treating a child as if they are much younger than their actual age.
Honey, will you please NOT Grow up?
Some parents with Personality Disorders feel an overwhelming compulsion to be loved or needed. In some cases, this manifests itself in a dysfunctional style of child raising which constrains the child’s normal mental, emotional and social growth.
As children mature, they progressively develop an increased sense of independence and capability, and as they do so, they naturally want to make more of their own choices and exert more control over their lives. This also means they gradually put more distance between themselves and their parents.
For some PD parents, this development of independent thoughts, actions and opinions can seem threatening. All parents naturally experience a degree of stress as their children become more self-directed - the PD parent however may respond by taking increasingly desperate actions to delay or hinder their child's development.
What it Looks Like
- A parent routinely and voluntarily shares the same bed as their 10 year old child.
- A parent routinely speaks in a baby-style sing-song voice to a teenager.
- A parent routinely assumes completely unnecessary responsibility for an older child’s wellbeing, including dressing, bathing and feeding.
- A parent routinely buys their child age-inappropriate clothing and toys or arranges age-inappropriate activities.
- A parent routinely and inappropriately cuts in and speaks for a child when someone else speaks directly to the child.
How it Feels
A child who is subject to Infantilization may be inclined to try to “let it go”, and not challenge a parent who is treating them in an age-inappropriate way in order to keep the peace. Some may develop the habits ofEnabling or Learned helplessness. Others may act out in anger, become prone to avoidance, or commit acts of sabotage.
Children who remain infantilized into their teen years and beyond often feel shame and embarrassment in front of their peers, especially if their parent acts out the trait in public. Some may begin to avoid friendships and social interaction, or may be actively prevented from age-appropriate activities by the PD parent, further hindering their social and emotional development.
Children and youths who are infantilized may be at an increased risk of acts of Self Harm or Impulsiveness, experience academic difficulties, and may possess poor social skills in adulthood.
Sometimes, one parent will disapprove of another dysfunctional parent’s infantilization, yet fail to proactively address the problem in an attempt to keep the peace and avoid conflict. This is a form of Enabling.
Infantilization is a form of Child Abuse, which starves a Child’s emotional being to feed the PD parent’s emotional need. There is no known legislation which outlaws Infantilization. However, some observant child advocates, guardian ad litem’s, therapists and evaluators may recognize the abuse, and take it into account in their reporting and decision making.
What NOT to Do
- Don’t avoid a child who has been infantilized, or criticize them for being immature.
- Don’t make a special case for an infantilized child, or single them out in front of peers.
- Don’t criticize a child’s parent in front of the child. They will think that you are criticizing them too.
- Don’t accept infantilization as normal, and “go with the flow”. Don’t immediately remove a task just because it is challenging. Give the child every opportunity to succeed and grow.
- Don’t go on a crusade or set rigid benchmarks for a child’s emotional or physical development. You will only hurt the child. All children develop at different rates and not all cases of “late bloomers” are the result of infantilization. The goal is always to encourage each child to be the best that they can be.
What TO Do
- Treat a child who is being infantilized in an age appropriate manner, and, if you are able provide them with opportunities to “flex their big kid muscles”.
- If you suspect a child is being sexually or physically abused or neglected, report it to your local authorities.
- Give the child honest sincere encouragement (not fake praise) for any job well done.