Vocabulary to describe childhood, child development, child behaviour and parents’ marriage.



– (noun) the state of being a child

When used in general English, it is usually assumed that childhood would be 3 to about 11-12 years of age.

  • “I spent most of my childhood in Brunei.”

– (singular noun) A person in their childhood, or a son or daughter of any age.

– (plural noun)

When used in conversational English, it is common to assume a “child” is someone in their childhood.

  • “I saw a child crossing the street.”
    This implies they are between 3 to 11-12 years of age.
  • “Eve’s child just turned 20.”
    Refers to an adult who is someone’s son or daughter.

– (noun) The state of being a boy and not yet a man.

– (noun) The state of being a girl and not yet a woman.

However both of these terms are not that common in conversational English.

– (noun) A male child, a male of any age, or a son.

– (noun) A female child, a female of any age, or a daughter.

It is common to assume a “boy” or “girl” is someone in their childhood. However, it is important to consider the context when you hear these words being used.

  • “He usually spends Friday nights at the pub with the boys.”
    Refers to adult males.
  • “I have two girls. One is in 7th grade, and the other just got into university.”
    Refers to daughters.
  • “I have a boy.”
    Implies a son in their childhood.

– (adjective) The period of childhood before puberty.

For clarification, “puberty” is the physical and psychological transition stage into adulthood, this occurs between the ages of 10 and 19. So a prepubescent boy or girl is someone who has not developed any characteristics typical of puberty.

To me, this term is not that common in conversational English but in more formal or academic settings.

  • “They will be conducting research into eating disorders in prepubescent children.

– (noun) A child between the ages of approximately 8 and 12.

– (noun) A child between the ages of about 9 and 12.

I’m not so sure how important it is to be eight or nine to be considered a tween or preteen. But just remember that this is the period just before a child becomes a teenager.

  • “There are plenty of gifts you can get for tweens.””His music is popular among preteen girls.”

– (noun, informal) A child, or a young person.

It is quite common to use “kid” to refer to someone that you consider young or immature even if they are already adults.

  • “Just because he’s a kid doesn’t mean he shouldn’t take responsibility for his actions.”

Childhood sweetheart
– (noun) A boyfriend or girlfriend from childhood.

However, a boyfriend or girlfriend from high school is also often referred to as childhood sweetheart.

  • “She married her childhood sweetheart. Now they have three kids.”

Childhood friend
– (noun) A friend from childhood.

  • “I’ve lost touch with all my childhood friends.

Childhood memories
– (noun) Memories from or formed during childhood.

  • “What are your fondest childhood memories?”

– (noun) The period of life spent at school.

This period continues until the end of high school.

  • “Unlike some people, I don’t feel the need to relive my schooldays.”

Latchkey child/kid
– (noun, informal) A child who is often alone at home after school because their parent(s) are out at work.

  • “She became a latchkey kid when her parents divorced.”

Child development

To grow up
– (phrasal verb, inseparable) To gradually become an adult, or to change from a child to an adult.

  • “I grew up in Brunei.”

– (noun) How someone was treated and educated as a child.

  • “Her upbringing was totally different to mine.”

– (adjective) The time when someone or something is starting to develop in character.

Quite often, we would use terms like “formative years,” “formative experience,” or “formative period.”

A person’s “formative years” usually refers to their early childhood until the age of eight. However, it is also common to refer to any time period of a person’s life if it had a strong influence on the rest of their life.

  • “She spent her formative years in Europe.”

Child behaviour

Well behaved
– (adjective) To describe someone who is behaving in a way that is accepted as correct.

  • “He’s usually a well behaved child in class.”

– (noun) Someone who is good or kind.

A well behaved child is often called an angel.

  • “She’s such a cute angel!”

 – (noun) A child or a man who does things that is disapproving, but you still like.

This is usually used in an endearing way.

  • “I found the rascal hiding in my backyard again.”

– (noun, informal) A child who behaves badly.

  • “The little devils broke the neighbour’s window while playing football.”

– (noun) To refer to a child who is behaving badly and difficult to control.

  • “My brother is a little terror.”

– (noun, informal) A child who behaves badly.

Spoiled brat
– (noun) A child that is allowed to do and have anything they want, resulting in them expecting everything they want and not respecting others.

  • Spoiled brats are made, not born.”

Children should be seen and not heard
– (proverb) Children should be quiet and well-behaved.

This is associated with old-fashioned or very conservative parenting styles.

Tantrum or Temper tantrum
– (noun) A sudden period of uncontrolled anger like a young child’s.

This is often associated with young children, but can be used for any age. Usually the verb “throw” is associated with this.

  • “It’s common to see children throwing tantrums at the toy store.”
  • “It’s weird seeing adults having a tantrum on facebook.”

Related to the parents’ marriage

Legitimate child
– (noun) Someone whose parents were legally married when they were born.

Illegitimate child 
– (noun) Someone whose parents were not married when they were born.

These might be terms that are more common or used in cultures with more traditional family structures with an emphasis on marriage.

However, whether a child is legitimate or illegitimate is not really a big deal in Australia nowadays. This is associated with a declining rate of marriages since WW2. And this is a similar trend in other western nations.

Love child 
– (noun, old-fashioned) An illegitimate child.

– (noun, old-fashioned) An illegitimate child.

Nowadays it is more common to use “bastard” as an insult.

More related vocabulary

– (adjective) Something typical of a child, or to describe adults who behave badly like a child.

This is often used in a disapproving way.

  • “I got tired of all the childish arguments.”

– (adjective) To describe adults that have good qualities of children – like trust, honesty, or enthusiasm.

  • “I admire her childlike trust in other people.”

Child’s play
– (idiom) To say that something is very easy to do.

This can be used by anyone of any age.

  • “Playing the piano is child’s play to her.”

Child prodigy 
– (noun) A young child who has a great ability in something.

  • “Mozart was a child prodigy and composed his first piece of music by the age of five.

Original post: 23 September 2020