Telltales and fidgets (Words that we use for children)

one little girl pointing at another girl in messy room

by Kate Woodford

In a supermarket last week, I heard a mother telling her child not to be naughty. Naughty is, of course, a word usually used for (badly behaved) children rather than adults. It made me think about other words that we use mainly for children, and I thought the subject would make an interesting post.

The first word that came to mind was the adjective cheeky, used for a child who is slightly rude to adults and not completely respectful. It’s sometimes used almost admiringly for the sort of child who is rather funny or appealing at the same time as being slightly rude. A very much stronger and more negative word for a child or young person who is rude and disrespectful to an adult is insolent:

Don’t be so cheeky!

Jamie’s got that cheeky little smile, hasn’t he?

All I can remember is his blank, insolent stare.

A child who is slightly naughty and who likes causing trouble may be described as mischievous. This isn’t a strong word and, like ‘cheeky’, is sometimes used almost admiringly:

I remember him as a mischievous little boy.

She has a very mischievous grin.

A very positive adjective for children is mature. A child who is mature is calm and sensible, behaving like an adult:

He’s only 13 but he’s very mature for his age.

People sometimes use the negative adjective spoiled (also UK spoilt) for a child who gets angry if they don’t get what they want because their parents have always allowed them to do or have anything they want:

Neither parent can say ‘no’ to Emily so she’s a little bit spoiled.

In the UK, the very negative phrase ‘spoilt brat’ is sometimes used for a spoiled child. (A brat is a badly behaved child.) This phrase is quite strong:

So Noah threw his bag on the ground because he wasn’t allowed an ice cream? He sounds like a spoilt brat to me.

Staying with nouns, there are various informal words for children who often do a particular thing. For example, a chatterbox is a child who talks a lot (perhaps too much). In UK English, a fidget is a child who can’t keep still, making repeated small movements (fidgeting), and a telltale (US tattletale) is a child who tries to get other children into trouble by telling adults about naughty things that they have done. A crybaby is a child who cries a lot, often without good reason and, finally for nouns, a very well-behaved child may be described as an angel:

Alfie’s teacher says he’s a bit of a chatterbox.

Abbie finds it hard to sit still for any length of time – she’s a real fidget.

Nobody likes a telltale, Beth!

Don’t be a crybaby!

I babysat for Freddie last weekend and he was an absolute angel.

We’ll end with a nice simile. If a child behaves extremely well, they are sometimes said to be as good as gold:

“Did the kids behave themselves for you?” “They were as good as gold.”

12 thoughts on “Telltales and fidgets (Words that we use for children)

    1. If the sibling is endangering themselves or others – I would call that child a reporter.

      [In the UK there used to be a big difference between telling tales and reporting].

      Time is very often of the essence in these situations.

      1. Snitch is more of a criminal sort of word – or leaning towards criminal behaviour.

        I would probably use it around the elder of the two ages you mention here.

        It depends on their ability to solve problems alone and together as siblings or as friends/acquaintances.

        And again, how much adult intervention is needed.

  1. BORET

    Hello Kate
    Very useful for a father like me. I was wondering about this sentence « for a child who gets angry if they don’t get what they want because their parents have always allowed them to do or have anything they want: ». I was surprised of the jump (hop?), between a child and they. What’s the rule for such a sentence?

    1. Explorer [especially of the tactile variety].

      Grabber and snatcher these children are sometimes described.

      Usually it is learning and not [intentionally] destructive.

      If anyone else has any words/descriptors – throw them in Lily’s direction.

    1. Kate Woodford

      You’re very welcome! I’m not sure we do have any more children-related posts. Perhaps we should? I shall give this some more thought. Thanks for raising it!

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