Tantrums, sulking and slamming doors aren’t just for tots and teens – adults can behave badly too. MAXINE GORDON meets the North Yorkshire therapist whose new book shines a light on the world of the ‘kidult’.

PUTTING up with pouting, petulance and pettiness from kids is par for the course, but when an adult acts their shoe size rather than their age, patience can wear thin.

Indeed, adults who act like children can be a destructive force in relationships, whether at home or work, says Rita Leaman, a psychotherapist.

During her years treating clients at her former practice in York, Rita was surprised to discover that the majority displayed issues with childish behaviour.

“Freud was correct when he focused on childhood,” says Rita, who is also a trained nursery nurse. She has married her experience in the nursery to her career as a therapist and written a book about why adults behave like children, Are You Chasing Rainbows?, under her penname, Alison R Russell.

First a distinction: it is important to understand the difference between being childlike and childish, stresses Rita, 64, who moved to Scalby, near Scarborough, from York three years ago.

“Chris Evans was a man with childish behaviour, who made his own life and the life of others a misery. But then he matured, he recognised how childish he was. Now he is childlike in his approach to life – he is fun. Being childish is a pain; being childlike is not.”

Most of us will either recognise childish behaviour in ourselves or in others, says Rita.

Here are some of the common cries of the ‘kidult’: “It’s not fair”

“I can’t do it”

“You’re not my friend any more”

“Look at me… me, me, me!”

“I can’t help it.”

You may snigger, but it’s no laughing matter. Such behaviour can seriously blight people’s lives. Rita says: “Childish behaviour can cause relationship breakdowns, unhappy children and adolescents, addiction problems and even mental health problems as well as workplace stress and absenteeism.”

She wrote the book hoping to provide some insight into why adults behave in such a way. Each chapter tackles a different area, from needs and wants to acceptance and resilience, fun and friendship, control, love and the need for attention among others. All end with a ‘reflection’; often giving the problem in the chapter a new perspective for the reader.

Rita traces the root of the kidult’s problems to three areas:

• Adult needs not being met at all, or in an unhealthy way

• Adults trying to meet unmet childhood needs, which will always be as elusive as the end of the rainbow (hence the book’s title)

• Adult needs being met in ways that childhood needs were met.

Rita admits that she displayed her own “mini-me” as an adult.

“As a ten-year-old, I felt life was unjust. I was a naughty child and when you are a naughty child you get told off for the things you have done that are naughty, but also for the things you haven’t done because you get picked out by teachers.

“This has given me a sense of injustice – and I will fight my own corner when appropriate.”

Rita believes the issues she covers in the book are rife in society.

“You read about an epidemic of depression in this country, but I don’t think there’s an epidemic of depression, I think there is an epidemic of emotional immaturity.”

Rita points to the House of Commons as the perfect example of adults behaving like children. But she there is evidence in other behaviours too, such as levels of drunkenness, addiction and boorishness, showing that we have become “infantised” and unable to set boundaries that ideally should have had their foundations laid in childhood by our parents and teachers.

“If people were made more aware of why they are behaving the way they are, they could help themselves,” says Rita. “The whole point of the book is to help you understand your own moods and other people’s moods.

“It’s not a self-help book; it’s about reflecting and being honest with yourself.

“We have an ability to use self observation – we have an internal CCTV camera and while it may not always make comfortable viewing, it can be extremely helpful.

“Standing back and seeing yourself as others see you can be a huge learning experience.”

Rita is adamant that people can change – and break patterns of behaviour that are destructive.

“We know the damaged brain can adapt. You can make the brain change; you can change negatives into positives. You can change outlooks and behaviours with cognitive behaviour therapy; if somebody thinks and believes things are not wonderful, it shows them how to change things.”

This therapy is often more beneficial, says Rita, than talking therapies that go over the same ground repeatedly. “If you pick at a wound it sometimes doesn’t get better; it can deepen it rather than heal it.”

• Are You Chasing Rainbows? by Alison R Russell, is published by Ballonview, priced £11.99 with £1 from each sale going to Childline.

Twitter: @MaxineYGordon