The term ageplay can be used as a standard roleplay term, but generally ageplay is a form of emotional regression. Some enjoy ageplay because they feel a need to express a childlike side, others may feel they are of a psychological age younger than their physical age, and some have dissociative child personalities. Many people consider their "inner child," a very real part of themselves. When in a submissive role to a dominant partner, the person in the child-like headspace may be referred to as an IK (inner kid) or IC (inner child).
Ageplay may be as simple as time spent alone pursuing "childlike" activities such as playing games or watching cartoons, or as complex as an entire lifestyle built around living as a child, with a guardian, to the fullest extent possible. When in role, a regressive ageplayer will often feel and react like a real child. For some it may feel upsetting or even emotionally damaging to be treated as an adult when in their child role or headspace (a term sometimes used to indicate when someone is fully immersed in their child role).
A child personality may be referred to as a little to differentiate from the adult persona (big, bigperson, B or BP). The internet provides a rich source of community for ageplayers, who usually seek a guardian or other "littles" to play with, and there are many online ageplaying communities.
Most frequently, those who find long-term solace in ageplay were physically or emotionally abused or otherwise unhappy in their real childhood. Reliving childhood experiences, under the caring eye of a guardian of their own choosing (whom they may consider their "mommy" or "daddy", "aunt" or "uncle", etc) is a valuable healing process for many ageplayers. The term used for this is reparenting. Many ageplayers feel a need to be taken care of, or to live with rules that give them a feeling of stability. The reparenting relationship may be part-time, or as thorough as a genuine parent/child relationship, with rules, set bedtimes, childlike clothing and toys. Discipline as well as nurturing may be enforced by the guardian if such rules are broken, with the prior consent of the ageplaying adult. This may include punishments such as grounding or spanking.
Ageplay roles range from infanthood to adolescence, and some ageplayers may identify with more than one age, taking on different ageplay roles at different times. Differing types of ageplay may be referred to in the following ways:
Infantilism : The desire to be treated as a baby or toddler. This form of ageplay appears to be far more prevalent among men, and rare among women. Infantilists may also be called adult babies or diaper lovers, although people going by these terms may not necessarily be infantilists. Infantilists usually wish to be entirely taken care of by a guardian as if they were a baby.
Juvenilism : Refers to ageplayers who take the role of a prepubescent child. This type of ageplay appears to be slightly more common among women than men.
Adolescentism : The ageplaying of an adolescent. Adolescent ageplay roles seem less common to regressive ageplay than the other two types, but more common to sexual ageplay.
Guardianship : An adult figure who does not roleplay a child, but rather a guardian role such as a "mommy" or "daddy" to child ageplayers. In online ageplay communities, there is often a shortage of guardians in comparison to the number of child ageplayers, and so it can be difficult for a "little" to find one. Some take on guardianship of more than one child ageplayer.
Sexual Ageplay is a type of sexual roleplay which, because of its dominance and submission aspects, is considered a form of BDSM. It may be referred to as edgeplay because of its level of social acceptability; such roleplay may involve (fictional) incest, and a common reaction is to associate child roleplaying in a sexual situation with pedophilia. Most sexual ageplayers resent any association with pedophilia, and claim that neither party is encouraged to believe there is a real child involved, and that it involves two consenting adults with one expressing the assumed emotional vulnerability of a child.
In sexual ageplaying, the dominant generally plays the role of some form of a guardian/authority figure (teacher, doctor, parent, etc). Ageplay can also be bratplay in which the "child" is disobedient and bratty, and puts up verbal or physical resistance. (In such play, a safeword is even more important.)
Ageplay practices may include:
diapering (i.e. putting the submissive partner in diapers as though he or she were an infant)
humiliating medical procedures such as rectal temperature taking, the insertion of suppositories, the giving of enemas.
Note that some of these practices, though not often applied to children nowadays, were commonplace some decades ago, and remain common in submission and humiliation fantasy.