Childishness or Foolishness

Childishness or foolishness?

There’s a vast difference between the two; however, finding the line can be difficult. Childishness can be defined as actions or behaviour befitting a child. Rather, foolishness pertains to the lacking in judgment or discretion. In terms of applying this to parenting, punishing childish behaviour can be damaging to a child’s emotional and developmental wellbeing (1). On the other hand, concentrating on enabling a child’s ability to make good choices is a skill that’s imperative throughout life (2).

My Examples/My Understanding

Childish: I’ve had a busy day and my poor children have been dragged along with it.  In this case, I have to lower my expectations; so then, if my children’s behaviour is appalling, who’s fault is that?  Mostly mine. So I have to bear the brunt of it.

Foolish:  My son (3) knows how to annoy his sister.  Sometimes he hits her, not in anger but because he knows he can get a reaction out of her.  I get the power thing, but the attitude of subjecting someone to suffering for a temporal feeling of gain is not a habitual attitude I want to foster.

Childish: I meet a friend in the shop with my 2-year-old. My 2-year-old has never seen this person before and my friend leans down close and says, “Hello!” My child goes “eh” and turns his head into my shoulder.  This is perfectly normal behaviour for a child. I don’t expect my toddler to embrace someone new right away.

Foolish: I expect my 9-year-old to be polite, even if she feels shy.  Saying “Hello” when greeted is within her capabilities.  If then, she has a bad attitude and just decides to be rude, well, that is something I would address with her.

When it can be tricky

When I read  the post 10 Things I won’t Discipline, I was reminded to carefully choose what behaviour to discipline. The author, Zoey, has thought about what she believes to be childish behaviour and therefore doesn’t discipline. I’m not entirely into writing lists because what is important for one can differ from another, and not necessarly are either right or wrong. However, I get the message behind the post: don’t punish natural childish behaviour.

Childish: Zoey left a permanent marker within her child’s grasp, and of course her 2-year-old found it and I’m sure, had a lovely time drawing on the walls.  You see, that is childish behaviour.  Of course a 2-year-old is going to experiment with an available pen.

Foolish:I’m not speaking for Zoey here, rather I’m writing about my own experience on the situation. This EXACT scenario has happened many times with my own children due to pens being left out.  If my child hasn’t done this before, I explain that walls, unless it’s a special  wall, are not for drawing.  Here is where foolish behaviour can come in. If then, my child, who I know understands my expectations (and I’m careful about this; true understanding can take some time),  deliberately disobeys me, this, in my opinion, can be seen as foolish behaviour, if repeated over and over again.

Why is it tricky? I find it difficult to decide which battles to choose and the balance between having a functioning house (and a sane mother), yet a nurturing one.

Choose the Hill

Obviously, expectations differ according to the age of a child and family situation. With a toddler, this is when “Choose which hill to die on” comes in. (Intrigued to know what means? You’ll have to read the post.) So, if enforcing “no drawing” on the wall is not where you are at, just keep pens away from busy hands, and if you forget, do what Zoey does and suck it up.

This is a expert from my post Little Billies, Toast and the Terrible Twos:

“Your child hasn’t moved on from a sippy-cup like other children? Your child is taking a l–o–n–g time to get the sharing concept?   A wise parent is guided by others, but filters everything in regards to how it fits in with their own family values. Stick to your plan and be guided by how your child is doing rather than what other children are doing. Remember you, and your child, can’t master everything at once.”

Choose your battles carefully is my point, and this will differ with every family.

Finding the line

How to find the balance?  I like to look at it like this: much of childish behaviour comes down to actions rather than attitude; much of foolish behaviour comes down to attitude rather than actions.

If the actions are powered by a foolish attitude, I work on it.  If the action is just that — a childish action, I think of it as childish behaviour. (I own that attitude can be childish at times too; I’m speaking generally here.)

I found this helpful list from GrowingKids.org:

* Don’t assume your child knows rules. Explain things to your child as age appropriate.

* Don’t assume your child will realize that if something is wrong, similar things are also wrong.

* Be sure your child understands what you are telling him.

* Be sure you tell your child not only what not to do, but what to do.

* Observe your child for a moment before assuming he is being disobedient.

Personality factor

I do wonder how four extremely different people could come from just two but it’s true: all my children are different. In my post Personality: Heads and Tails, I discuss the negative and positive side to personalities.  This also can be applied when deciding what is expected from each child (if you have more than one). For example, my eldest daughter is naturally disorganised, yet creative, and so I accommodate for this as much as I can.  I don’t expect her room to be tidy all the time.  In contrast, my number two daughter loves to be organised and her room is often tidy. I don’t think it’s fair to hold my eldest daughter to my second daughter’s expectations.  They are different and have different strengths and weaknesses. 

Expect to be judged

Alas, sad but true. Can I tell you a story?  When I was young, I lived in a remote village in Papua New Guinea for some years.  Meat was rare, so my Mother taught me to spread peanut butter thick on bread as one of the many measures she took to ensure I was cared for nutritionally.  Soon after our return to Australia, our family went visiting and for lunch, we made our own sandwiches.  The lady was horrified at how much peanut butter I put on my bread and told my Mother so, implying that I was greedy.  I’m sure my Mother felt terrible but she wasn’t angry with me.  She just explained that I had done nothing wrong, but need to respect the rules of the respective house. You know, I still spread peanut butter thick; to me it is just the way it’s meant to be.

In my own experiences as a mother, I too have been judged many times for my actions.  If I use the example of drawing on the walls, some may dissaprove of the expectations I have for my 2-year-old and the lack of a 100% child proof house.  In my case, I’ve lived in rental properties for 10 years now, moving every year or so and I’ve had 4 children under six years and so to me, it’s important to teach my children not to draw on the walls from a young age. The reasons? Firstly, the house we live in is not our own. Secondly, although I do teach my older children to put pens away, it’s impossible for me to stay sane if I was to run around and pick up every pen that was left out.  I’m going for sane here. 

If parents could support each other without judging each other, it would be a very wonderful thing.  Be discerning: yes; judgemental: no.

Expect to be wrong

If you are anything like me, you are going to get the balance wrong — a lot. I’ve learnt to constantly eat humble pie, say sorry to my children and pray. I don’t know anyone who gets it right all the time so you’ll be in good company.

Is it working?

My daughter (9) spontaneously came to me this afternoon while I was typing away, sat on my lap and said, “Mum, can I just sit with you for a little bit because I feel like I haven’t been really respectful of you lately. I love you so much.”  Bless! What a joy. Through all my mistakes, I must be doing something right.

There is so much to take in account when parenting, that’s why it’s SO HARD!

Is your child’s behaviour childish or foolish? Take a moment to decide and eat humble pie if you’re wrong.


1. Campbell, R. 2003, How to Really Love Your Child, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL. p.38.

2. Fisher, R. 2005, Teaching Children to Think, Nelson Thornes Ltd, Cheltenham, UK.

Other Be A Fun Mum Links

Choose Which Hill to Die On: The Terrible Twos

I Have Three Crushes

Little Billies, Toast and the Terrible Twos


10 Mistakes

Three Gates: Words of Wisdom

Hands Behind Back

Personality: Heads and Tails

External Links

SuperParents: 10 Things I won’t Discipline

GrowingKids: Childishness or Foolishness

How to Really Love Your Child by Ross Campbell 

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  • Reply
    August 30, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    We talk about this a lot in our house. We often ask each other the question “Is it childishness or foolishness?”

  • Reply
    Christie - Childhood 101
    August 30, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    I agree with your definitions but also think it is important to remember that toddlers generally have very poor impulse control – they may hear your warning or know of your ‘rules’ but have already committed to the act! And they have very little ability to transfer a rule from one situation to another. For example, Immy has drawn on a wall (fortunately with lead pencil, not permanent marker) and now knows that it is wrong to do so – in our house we try to instill the general rule that we draw on paper – but it did not stop her drawing over other objects in my study when she recently found a permanent marker. Drawing on my things was wrong (they were not paper) but in this instance I believe the impulse to try out an adult pen (which are generally kept out of her reach) was too strong for her toddler curiosity and mind.

    • Reply
      Kelly Be A Fun Mum
      August 30, 2010 at 8:25 pm

      HA! So true Christie. Made me laugh actually, your description. I so know what you mean. I too say “Draw on paper” but then I got thinking and there are so many things my children draw on that isn’t paper eg. cardboard, toilet rolls, chalk board etc. It’s a tricky one for me because I love encouraging creativity.

      I often take every situation on its own so, using your example, I like how you have been flexible with your ‘rule’ in relation to the situation. I am always striving to be reasonable in my expectations, especially of my toddler. Obviously I have appeared to be hard and fast but that is not what I meant. I honestly made so many mistakes on a daily basis that I learn — more than the children I think.

  • Reply
    August 30, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    “Mum, can I just sit with you for a little bit because I feel like I haven’t been really respectful of you lately. I love you so much.”
    Kelly you are definitely doing somethings right!! What a treasure!
    I love your wisdom with the discipline issue. I often feel like a very tough Mum because I try and set clear guidelines and boundaries with my 1 year old…. and so many others around me are almost boundary-less and let their children do anything and everything that they want… using the excuse “He’s only one”.
    At the same time I need to remember that my son is only one, and is going to act like a one year old child, and I should expect childish behaviour. Thank you for helping me define childishness and foolishness. So incredibly helpful!

    • Reply
      Kelly Be A Fun Mum
      August 31, 2010 at 7:27 am

      Thank you for your encouragement Alissa. Yeah, it’s a hard to find the balance. I’m always struggling with it. I’m glad it was helpful. Writing it was incredibly helpful for me. I needed the reminder.

  • Reply
    August 30, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    Great post Kelly!

    I also use the distinction between childish behaviour and foolish behaviour (or disobedience vs. immaturity). I discipline for direct disobedience to an instruction I have given. Usually with my 2 year old, I only discipline after I have given the instruction recently (e.g. the last couple of minutes).

    In the example of drawing on the wall, I try to remind my daughter everytime we get the crayons/ pencils out that we “only draw on paper”. In that case, I am happy to discipline when this boundary is flaunted (except in the case of accidents of course e.g. drawing on the table by going off the edge of the paper). Obviously in Christie’s eg, there was no preparation/ instruction given about use of the pen so I would probably respond with a firm reminder (“Oh no, remember we only draw on paper. That was a silly thing to do”) but not give any “punishment” as such.

    I find the distinction between childishness/ foolishness or disobedience/ immaturity very helpful in knowing how to respond to situations. Thanks for fleshing it out in your post.

    • Reply
      Kelly Be A Fun Mum
      August 31, 2010 at 7:33 am

      Disobedience vs. immaturity: that’s helpful too isn’t it? I think you are so wise in giving clarity “Oh no, remember we only draw on paper” rather than punishing in that situation. I agree and I like the balance you have Julie.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2010 at 6:06 am

    Wow Kelly. There is so much to think about here. I also enjoyed Zoey’s post and have stopped a couple of times to think before I say something about what Will is getting up to! He is also testing the boundaries so much at the moment so I’m loving all your experience!

    • Reply
      Kelly Be A Fun Mum
      August 31, 2010 at 7:37 am

      Harrison is too, testing ALL the boundaries at the moment (and driving me nuts) so I’m giving all this a real workout. I find it hard when I feel so frustrated, to be calm and assess the situation in a proactive way rather than reactive. I get it wrong — a lot. {sigh} But it’s good to know where I need to be and what I need to do. Beats flying blind. And Praise God for His help!

  • Reply
    Farmers Wifey
    August 31, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    I really enjoyed this post….I can see my kids alot in these descriptions…..

    • Reply
      Kelly Be A Fun Mum
      September 1, 2010 at 7:23 am

      Sometimes, as Mums, we think we are alone, but in a way, we all go through similar thing with our kids ay.

  • Reply
    September 1, 2010 at 2:21 am

    “Hello!” My child goes “eh” and turns his head into my shoulder. This is perfectly normal behaviour for a child. I believe this can even be normal behavior for a 5 or 6 year old. The kids come in my karate classes and I say hello and they just keep walking by. They just don’t know what to say or are too shy to say anything. I always say “well it was nice chatting with you”, which never fails to get a laugh from their mom, and it shows her that I don’t take it personally. They are just kids in their own little world.

    • Reply
      Kelly Be A Fun Mum
      September 1, 2010 at 7:24 am

      Yes, I’m sure many 5 or 6 year olds don’t know what to say; however I’m trying to teach my 6-year-old that just looking someone in the eye and saying “Hello” is just polite.

      I think it’s great what you say in response. I think i would give me a chuckle.

      • Reply
        September 2, 2010 at 10:31 am

        @Kelly Be A Fun Mum, Yes, Kelly you are teaching your child the right things–being polite is crucial, especially in today’s society. Some of the mothers and fathers insist that their children come up to the front desk and personally pay and sign in before class. They are also taught to come up and shake my hand and thank me after class. Good manners are taught first at home.

  • Reply
    September 1, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Great, thought-provoking post, Kelly. You made me think of something that happened when my son was young.

    He’d gone through the toddler stage and never drawn on walls etc. Suddenly, when he was five, he took one of his green texta pens and wrote on my precious cedar table. We discussed it, and he said he understood and wouldn’t do it again. But he did! I was flabbergasted, trying to work out why this normally reasonable, childish person was acting in such a foolish (to me) way. I thought about it and drew up a contract with him, one where he promised not to draw on furniture. He signed the contract, (in green texta pen!) and somehow it seemed to make the situation solemn enough that he never did it again.

    It worked for us!

    • Reply
      Kelly Be A Fun Mum
      September 1, 2010 at 11:35 am

      That is awesome BC. My sister sometimes writes a contract with her school children and I’ve never thought of applying it at home. I laughed at the green texta pen being used.

  • Reply
    Hear Mum Roar
    September 2, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    You do raise some interesting points:)

    I tend to look at discipline in the way that I want to encourage behaviour that is socially acceptable. If a child does something that is perceived by society as innappropriate, then I will guide the behaviour according to their stage of development.

    Whenever I take out textas, I clearly state the rules: only draw on paper (or whatever material is being given to draw on). No drawing on the walls, furniture, yourselves or others. If it’s not paper, don’t draw on it. lol. I also state clearly that if they draw anywhere they’re not supposed to, then the textas/crayons or pencils have to go away until next time.

    I expect my younger two to test this boundary. And they do. Somedays I can leave the textas out and available all day for the children to have the freedom to draw whenever they please. Other times, they go away after an hour.

    I find that the kids learn via cause and effect that if I draw on the wall, the textas go away until tomorrow. If I only draw on the paper, then I have them for as long as I want, and this gives me freedom. This needs to be tested repetitively and over time they learn the boundaries.

    I don’t micromanage their drawing time, I give them the freedom and trust to enjoy drawing and follow the rules. If the walls get drawn on, I clean it off and get on with it. I put the textas away calmly. I then don’t have to worry that they will repeat the broken rule over and over again.

    I believe it is normal for children to do socially inappropriate things. I also believe in teaching them by repetition, what is expected of them in society, within the realms of their stage of development.

    I also agree with you that we should aim to not judge other parents on their discipline techniques. Unless, of course, someone is being placed in danger, I would imagine that would be hard for anyone not to judge. Or if your rights are being impinged upon and the parent is doing nothing about it. (Eg, we’ve been having problems with children next door trespassing into our property, and the parents allowing it. In extreme circumstances like that, I can’t help but judge, lol!)

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    • Reply
      Kelly Be A Fun Mum
      September 3, 2010 at 2:13 pm

      I love it that you don’t micromanage drawing time. I don’t either. I find I inhibit creativity sometimes if I get too controlling.

      Oh dear re trespassing. That’s a shocker! That is inappropriate behaviour; however I like to look at it like this: I like giving people the benefit of the doubt. What if the parents had a terrible childhood themselves? What if no one ever taught them good manners etc. But being discerning, I can see you would absolutely need to protect your own family.

      Interesting point about society and I think it’s a great idea to help our children to read situations around them. Personally, I don’t give much stock to society as many of the so called “rules” are not necessarly the ones I want my children to follow. I would rather them stay true to themselves and do what is right rather than what is expected of them. Does that make sense?

      Great reply HMR.

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