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Childish vs. Childlike: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on November 1, 2023
"Childish" refers to immature behavior typical of a child, often negative, while "Childlike" denotes innocence and purity characteristic of children, usually positive.

Key Differences

"Childish" and "Childlike" are adjectives that describe qualities or behaviors associated with children. However, their connotations and implications can be quite different. "Childish" typically has a negative slant, suggesting immature or inappropriate behavior for one's age. In contrast, "Childlike" often carries a more positive tone, referring to the innocence, wonder, and curiosity naturally found in children.
When someone is labeled "Childish," it usually implies that the person is behaving in a way that is below their age level or expected maturity. It often relates to pettiness, being sulky, or throwing tantrums. On the other hand, "Childlike" attributes are those that adults might aspire to retain or regain, such as a sense of wonder, purity, and straightforwardness.
An important distinction between "Childish" and "Childlike" lies in their usage in relation to age. While children can exhibit both childish and childlike behaviors, it's more common to describe adults as "Childish" when they're not meeting expected behaviors for their age. "Childlike," however, can be a compliment for adults, highlighting their innocence and purity.
Grammatically, both "Childish" and "Childlike" are adjectives. Their difference isn't in their grammatical use but rather in their connotative meanings. Using them appropriately in context ensures that the intended positive or negative nuance is conveyed.

Comparison Chart



Typically Describes

Immature behavior
Innocence and wonder

Usage in Relation to Age

Often for adults behaving immaturely
Can be used for anyone, often complimentary for adults

Associated Behaviors

Tantrums, pettiness
Curiosity, straightforwardness

Intended Implication

Below one's age level
Natural qualities of children

Childish and Childlike Definitions


Indicative of triviality or lack of depth.
That's a childish argument.


Demonstrating innocence and purity.
She had a childlike trust in everyone.


Exhibiting pettiness or jealousy.
Her childish envy was evident.


Displaying straightforwardness, without guile.
Her childlike honesty was refreshing.


Pertaining to behavior that's immature or inappropriate for one's age.
His childish tantrum was unexpected for someone his age.


Reflecting a sense of wonder or curiosity.
His childlike enthusiasm was infectious.


Characteristic of a child's inexperience.
His knowledge on the subject seemed childish.


Exemplifying simplicity and lack of complexity.
The solution was childlike in its simplicity.


Displaying lack of maturity or understanding.
Making faces is a childish gesture.


Resembling or characteristic of a child's manner or appearance.
He had a childlike face, even in his old age.


Of, relating to, or suitable for a child or childhood
A high, childish voice.
Childish nightmares.


Like or befitting a child, as in innocence, trustfulness, or candor.


Marked by or indicating a lack of maturity; puerile
Tired of your childish pranks.


Innocent and trustful; credulous; artless.


Of or suitable for a child.


Of, like, or suitable for a child.


Immature in thought or behaviour.
Your childish temper tantrums are not going to change my decision on this matter.


Resembling a child, or that which belongs to children; becoming a child; meek; submissive; dutiful.


Of, pertaining to, befitting, or resembling, a child.


Befitting a young child;
Childlike charm


Puerile; trifling; weak.
Methinks that simplicity in her countenance is rather childish than innocent.


Exhibiting childlike simplicity and credulity;
Childlike trust
Dewy-eyed innocence
Simple courtesy


Indicating a lack of maturity;
Childish tantrums
Infantile behavior


Can children be described as "Childish"?

Yes, but it would imply behavior immature even for their age.

Are "Childish" and "Childlike" synonyms?

No, "Childish" has negative connotations while "Childlike" is more positive.

Can I use "Childish" to describe simplicity?

It might imply a lack of depth or triviality.

Is being "Childish" a good thing?

Typically, it's used negatively to describe immature behavior.

Are both "Childish" and "Childlike" adjectives?

Yes, both describe qualities or behaviors.

Can adults be described as "Childlike"?

Yes, often in a complimentary manner, indicating innocence.

Is "Childlike wonder" a positive attribute?

Yes, it indicates a sense of amazement and curiosity.

Can something be both "Childish" and "Childlike"?

Context matters, but a behavior could be seen as immature by some and innocent by others.

Is "Childlike faith" a positive term?

Generally, yes. It indicates pure and unwavering belief.

Can a painting evoke "Childlike" emotions?

Yes, if it brings out feelings of wonder or innocence.

Is "Childish" always a criticism?

Often, but context matters. Sometimes it's used lightheartedly.

What's the opposite of "Childlike innocence"?

Cynicism or worldliness.

Do "Childish" and "Childlike" have similar origins?

Both are derived from the word "child" but have different connotations.

Are there other words similar to "Childish"?

Yes, like juvenile or immature.

Is it good for adults to retain "Childlike" qualities?

Many believe retaining childlike innocence and wonder is positive.

Can a movie be "Childish"?

Yes, if it's seen as trivial or lacking depth.

Can "Childlike" be used for elderly people?

Yes, especially referring to their innocence or purity.

What's a synonym for "Childlike wonder"?

Amazement or awe.

Why might someone be called "Childish"?

For exhibiting behavior immature for their age or situation.

What makes someone's behavior "Childlike"?

Qualities of innocence, straightforwardness, or natural curiosity.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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