STANDING at a bus terminus has its advantages, especially if you’re one of the first to get on the bus. With a little excitement, I climbed the stairs and claimed a front seat. There followed over an hour of a leisurely ride through London, to Kings Cross Station.

The number 10 route covers many London landmarks and before Christmas there was even more than usual to look at. Left, right, and straight ahead were Christmas decorations and shop windows to enjoy. My appreciation felt childlike. Then the idea of making that feeling the topic of this column fell into place.

What’s the difference between childish and childlike behaviours? This question became the basis of my therapeutic work, as I realised I was working with many adults who were displaying unhelpful emotions based in childhood. It fascinated me. What do I suggest is the difference?

On the top of the bus I felt childlike moments. These can be treasured at any age and include moments of joy, fun, wonderment, innocent curiosity and simple pleasure. We can still behave as an adult and remain in control. These moments are delightful, uplifting, fun and enjoyable for all, such as, a visit to the seaside, receiving gifts, playing games with children, having harmless fun. They are unlikely to cause distress to anyone.

Behaviour described as childish is a pain for all involved. It can be demonstrated by sulking, tantrums, being disruptive, lying, manipulation and possessiveness. The person behaving childishly is unhappy and emotionally immature. “Oh grow up!” is the common response.

The Christmas and New Year period is a time when both childlike and childish behaviours can be experienced. Plenty of articles have been written on families coming together and the dynamic played out in the present day is one that arose in childhood. The adult children often default to their younger roles. If it’s fun it’s okay, but if unhappiness is involved, it is not.

Rita Leaman is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in North Yorkshire. As Alison R Russell, she is the author of Are You Chasing Rainbows? (

She also writes a blog on emotional health: