The simple definition of infantilization is treating a child much younger than their actual age. For some parents, this becomes their ‘normal’ way of child rearing, and it can lead to unhealthy development in the child. But, it’s usually an issue with the parent that triggers infantilization in the first place.
It’s not uncommon to look at your little one and wish time would slow down a bit. After all, no one wants their kids to grow up too fast. But, infantilization takes that idea to an extreme, practically refusing to let their child grow up by treating them like an infant.
It’s natural for children to want independence as they grow and mature. Parents who infantilize can’t handle this idea of breaking away. The actions of independence can feel like a threat to them, and they may double down on how they infantilize their child.
Who Infantilizes Their Children?
Parents who feel the need to hold back their children in this way often suffer from a personality disorder. They feel the need to act out this disorder as they raise their children, which can lead to some extremely unhealthy and concerning habits. Some of the common characteristics of a parent who infantilizes their
Speaking in ‘baby talk’ to their kids, even as they are older (teenagers)
Trying to continue responsibility of an older child’s basic needs, like dressing and bathing
Buys children age-inappropriate clothing
Enrolls children in age-inappropriate activities
Often shares the same nighttime routine and bed as their older child (10+)
These characteristics can be disturbing to those viewing it on the outside. They can also be damaging for the children involved, as these behaviors prevent them from developing the kind of independence they need to grow and thrive.
How Does It Affect the Children?
Infantilization affects all children differently. Some kids may be able to ignore it and let go of the strange behaviors of their parents. For others, there is a deeper impact and it can leave serious emotional and mental scarring on their lives. They may act helpless, or they may act out in anger and violence.
It has been shown that children who are raised by infantilizing parents often show an increase in their risk of self-harm and impulsiveness, and they can struggle academically and socially.
Infantilization is considered a form of child abuse, and even though some children may be able to walk away from it with only a little embarrassment, it can ruin the lives of others and lead them down a dark and dangerous path.
What Can I Do to Help an Infantilized Child?
If you suspect a child is being infantilized by their parents, you should report it to local authorities. Again, this is a form of child abuse and shouldn’t be taken lightly. As for the child, they should be treated in an age-appropriate manner, even if they don’t respond to it right away because of their living situation. You should never make a child who has been infantilized feel immature or as though something is wrong with them.
Infantilization shouldn’t be accepted as normal. If you know a parent who is doing this to their child, or a child who is dealing with it, it’s important to take responsible action and get both parties involved the help they need and deserve.
Dr. Dimitra Takos is a Newport Beach Psychologist specializing in the treatment of adolescents and adults suffering from depression, anxiety, and trauma-and stressor-related disorders.