Infantilization (A Comprehensive Guide)

Infantilization

As the children grow further they are always in need of guidance from their peers so that they can have a mature personality and learn critical survival life skills and can also develop their emotions in a positive way.

However, this whole process does not go right in the case of some people or even in some cases does not even happen which might be because of a number of reasons, one being the prevention of such developments from the authority figures that are present in their lives.

Through their actions and speech, these parents or guardians or authority figures do not adjust their style of parenting to accommodate the growth or maturity of the child, hence resulting in hindering his growth.

Doing this might result in creating a handicap for such children as it will make it harder for them to develop critical skills in them with time which might be important for their survival and will help them in overcoming different problems and issues that they might face as an adult later on.

This whole phenomenon or lack of adapting is referred to as infantilization which literally means treating an individual as a child or infant.

In this article, we will discuss infantilization. 

Infantilization (A Comprehensive Guide)

Most of the experts have also associated narcissism and infantilization with each other, where the guardians or the parents have a fear of their children becoming their equal once they have become adults.

When they give in to this fear of theirs, they try to prevent their children from transforming into mature adults and try to stop the time, which ends up limiting the treatment of their childlike they are small and ending up in the result of manifesting infantilization in them.

In this article, we will discuss the causes which can lead to infantilization, its potential effects, and what can be done in order to address or reduce the effects of this issue, if it is already present in one’s life.

Many assume that infantilization might be the reason for teen sucking.

Causes of Infantilization

The main cause of infantilization is not certain and may vary but as a general concept, the person who treats other people like an infant or child often has the need to feel superior or does feel superior to others.

Some of the children who are fully adults now may agree with the fact that their parents still think of them as small little children and deny the fact that they are full-grown adults now.

Instead, these parents might have a need to express their superiority or feel superior by managing the activities of their adult child.

Parents who are suffering from narcissistic tendencies have more possibility of infantilizing their children as they consider them as an extension of themselves and a part of their own self.

Considering the child being independent is an open threat to such a relationship which might end up in the child drifting away from them.

Using the method of infantilization, parents usually try to undermine the independence of the child by doing different things for their child themselves in an inappropriate way or make their child feel like a looser or incompetent when he is trying to learn something new. 

Once these children grow up and reach adulthood and start living on their own, they might be lacking the basic skills needed to survive on their own which can lead to them being paralyzed in their daily life and make life difficult for them as they try to navigate through the world learning new skills just because their parents do not wanted them to do things on their own when they were younger. 

Methods Parents Use to Infantile Their Children

There are a number of ways which a parent can use to reduce the independence of a child and treat them as they are still small and not in control of their lives, some of these ways are listed as below : 

Disapproval – The way they treat their child or look at them when he asks a question with a look that says it all and conveys the message of disapproval.

When a parent is trying to infantilize their children, their most common tactic is to disapprove of any decision made by their child without their approval and make him redo things or make the decision again with their input or approval.

Essentially, they in a way try to train the child to involve them in any decision he makes and to not make any decision without their input or without running by them first which makes the child believe that he is incapable of making any decision on his own and will always doubt his intuition and himself.

This will further hinder his growth and will obstruct him from acting on his gut feeling about situations and people.

Infantilization (A Comprehensive Guide)

Interference – The common theme for people who are infantilized is that they are incapable of making any decision or running their own life and always need the input of their parents or someone nearby or at least this is how they are brought up and made to believe.

Narcissistic parents believe that they have every right to interfere with the private and intimate life of their children which might lead to sabotaging the relationship the child is building up or even instructing him or her to who they should date and in which company they should sit.

This interference creates a sense of insecurity and conflicts in those children as they are not able to make these decisions themselves with their parents meddling in their relationships and friends all the time.

Excessive criticism – Some parents even use rude and hurtful comments to rot away the self-confidence of the child which is often done under the guise of helping them making more better decisions and improving their knowledge like in the case of weight gain, clothing choices, choosing a partner or a career and different aspects of one’s life.

They all become the subject of opinions and comments are always under criticism by them even a slight step can lead to a lot of comments.

The main goal of the parent is to keep the child dependent on them and prevent them from leading an independent life. 

Infantilization can also manifest as a result of the denial of emotional support, verbal abuse, and even through gifts that are not according to the age of the child.

As an adult, they may sometimes get gifts from their parents which might indicate that they are not capable of taking care of themselves so that is why they are the ones who are taking care of them.

These parents might also occasionally come to the homes of their children to rearrange furniture and their rooms giving them a message that they know what is better for their child than the child himself.

All of these actions are basically undermining the capability of the child and can result in impacting the worth they have of themselves in their eyes and also reduce their self-confidence.

For adults, it can also create a sense of awkwardness between their parents and themselves which might end up in lessening interactions between the two, and if it still drags on the child might end up cutting every contact with their parents. 

The Negative Impact and Symptoms of Infantilization

By treating their child as incapable a parent is creating an unhealthy environment that can further lead to internal conflicts and dialogue within the child.

The child might become more hesitant to make some decisions on his own or to try new things without having first consulted his parents or show more doubt and less trust in their own judgment.

Their self-worth and self-confidence can take a big fall as they also start evaluating themselves based on the harsh filters set by their parents and the actions and comments passed by them on their judgments. 

Infantilization can not only end up giving a child’s self-confidence a hit but it can also have a dehumanizing effect on them as it basically destroys their individuality, having their abilities always being questioned and their thoughts, actions, and feelings being criticized end up in them being a shallow shell of a person.

With time, the levels of doubt that have manifested inside the child can become toxic for them which can further lead to anxiety and depression. 

Infantilization (A Comprehensive Guide)

To address these issues of low self-confidence and self-esteem, these adults are needed to take help from professionals or a certified or licensed therapist frequently.

As a part of their work, they can help them to build up their skills and confidence, abilities and make them able to make their own decisions without taking in any input or seeking help from others. 

Ways to Address Infantilization

People who have been targeted by others to manifest infantilization, it can be really hard to have a healthy relationship with their parents because of their behavior towards them.

To address such issues, steps can be taken in a positive direction by setting up boundaries for the interference that is allowed to be done by their parents.

This allows them to keep their parents at a specific distance from their private matters and redefine their own relationships without their approval or input. 

There might be different moments or points in the conversation where the child will put up for himself and will argue for his rights and opinions.

When the parent gives their opinion, the child must be able to give them his own opinions regarding the matter and stop them from forcing their own opinions on him while changing the subject of the topic.

The child should be firm in his decisions and should try not to sway with the details regarding it and change it, he should learn through his own experiences and should not give a detailed explanation of the reasons behind it to his parents or it might end up in him changing it. 

Infantilization of Seniors

On a different end, the parents or seniors can sometimes also become dependent on their children when they are too old of age.

These adults can then find themselves making decisions for their parents even sometimes without consulting them which can end up in them infantilizing their parents and making them think that they are incapable themselves of making such decisions.  

In this scenario, parents need to take matters in their own hands and remind their children that they are also adults and fully capable of making their own decisions.

If necessary, they can also take help from a legal perspective and legal protections can also be used to keep their children in their place and not overstepping their boundaries. 

Infantilization (A Comprehensive Guide)

FAQ about Infantilization

Why do people Infantilize?

Infantilization usually happens when a full-grown adult is treated like an infant.

This can occur when a parent does not want their child to grow up or when an adult treats his parents as if they are incapable of making their own decisions.

What is an infantilized person?

According to the Collins Dictionary, infantilization is defined as the act of increasing the state of infantile in a person by treating them as a child, which means even if the person is an adult you treat him as he does not know anything and is still a small child.

References

  1. Joy Youell (2020): “The Causes And Symptoms Of Infantilization”
  2.  Rachel Lee (2018): “Why Narcissistic Parents Infantilize Their Adult Children

Infantilization (A Comprehensive Guide)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.