Childlike vs. Childish – What’s the Difference?

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

It’s not uncommon for most people to use the terms “childish” and “childlike” in place of each other. But these two terms have distinct connotations and meanings, and understanding their differences can help you communicate your thoughts and feelings much better.

So, to set things straight, I’ll go over the details you should know that highlight the differences between these two adjectives.

The Difference Between Childish and Childlike

Childlike vs. Childish Whats the Difference

When we say something or someone is “childish,” we’re basically saying their behavior is immature, irresponsible, or lacking the expected development and emotional intelligence of an adult. *ahem* You see it a lot these days.

It usually brings a negative connotation because it suggests someone is acting inappropriately for their age or showing certain traits that are synonymous with, say, a teenager or petulant child.

But when we say something or someone is “childlike,” we’re implying they have endearing, innocent qualities and are reminiscent of childhood’s positive things, such as innocence, curiosity, and wonder.

So, you see the difference? If someone is amazed by something they’ve never seen before, like fireworks or a destination they’ve never been to, and you call them childish, it would come across as mean and insulting.

Is It Childlike or Child-Like With a Hyphen?

Even though it looks like there should be one, the correct term you should be using is “childlike” without a hyphen.

What’s Another Word for Childlike?

  • Innocent
  • Naive
  • Pure
  • Simple
  • Trusting
  • Unpretentious
  • Wide-eyed
  • Youthful

What’s Another Word for Childish?

  • Immature
  • Infantile
  • Juvenile
  • Puerile
  • Silly
  • Foolish
  • Unsophisticated
  • Inexperienced

Is Childish Positive or Negative?

“Childish” is generally considered negative, as it implies a lack of maturity, emotional intelligence, or proper behavior expected of an adult. It is often used to criticize or disapprove someone’s actions or attitude.

Childish Examples in a Sentence

Childlike vs. Childish Whats the Difference 1
  • My pre-teen son threw a tantrum at the slightest inconvenience today, revealing his childish nature.
  • Charlie’s childish response to criticism of her artwork was to stick her tongue out at us and storm away.
  • My husband’s inability to accept responsibility for his actions regarding the purchase of a new car without talking to me was a sign of his childish behavior.
  • The English teacher constantly made childish jokes, making it hard to take her seriously.
  • I told you he was childish! Just look how immature he acted when you told him no.

The childish bickering between the Tory and Labour Treasury teams continues. [Evening Standard]

Childlike Examples in a Sentence

  • I was utterly captivated during the reading at the library. The author’s childlike curiosity and sense of wonder made her an engaging storyteller.
  • I love how my husband approaches each new experience with childlike enthusiasm and eagerness to learn and grow.
  • people say my childlike innocence is endearing and makes me easy to trust.
  • Jayden’s childlike simplicity allowed him to find joy in just about everything.
  • My best friend’s childlike openness makes her an excellent listener and confidante. I tell her everything.

Happily free of all fashionable urban cynicism or irony, her illustrations have a childlike optimism. [National Post]

Are You Childish or Childlike?

Understanding distinctions and nuances between words that often seem similar is essential for communicating properly. Using childish and childlike interchangeably can belittle people or cause confusion. So, just remember my tips!