She rests her belly, full of a breakfast of frozen waffles and sausage, on the wood floor of my living room. It’s 7:00am and her bus comes in over an hour to take her to school. She is sprawled out on the floor in her Christmas pajamas, even though it is June, but the air conditioning is high and my motivation to play is low. The plight of the working parent. Time is not on her agenda and she is immersed in creating the next magical dragon on paper.
Her colored pencils, like a wreath, circled around her, a reckless array of R.O.Y.G.B.I.V. I am sitting on our 10 year old leather couch catty cornered behind her checking my work emails while I gulp down dark roast black coffee. The mental to-do list is being checked off as I play scheduling jenga in my mind for the day ahead.
She looks up at me, her bed tangled hair across her eyes, and says “Momma, do you want to play?” I feel that adult part of me, the one that runs a business, is a therapist, helps to run a household, and is getting everything set for the morning before my day is up and running, hesitate because the pressure of adulthood is bumping right up against my child’s heart-centered desire for play. She has no to-do list other than enjoying the moment and seeking connection with her Momma.
Children can teach us a lot about mindfulness and finding joy in simplicity in the moment.
I don’t drop what I am doing every time, but this particular morning I did. I did because I knew my inner child needed a quick break for coloring too and that I was feeling anxious about managing all of the things that adults need to manage.
For my parent readers venturing into their own inner child work: It is OK if your inner child sometimes takes cues from your own child to connect with what you need in that moment.
I felt my body relax.
My brow soften.
My jaw un-clench.
The fun of choosing the next color to help color in the magical mermaid dragon tail.
Let’s be honest. Adulting is really hard. The seemingly never ending responsibilities coupled with the societal pressure to have it all figured out and be successful can deflate feelings of spontaneity, joy, and self-compassion. As adults, all too often we get caught up in the day-to-day life management tasks that we can lose sight of the younger parts of ourselves that are craving fun, creativity, play, rest, and curiosity.
Doing “inner child work” means that first we acknowledge that we have an inner child. It means that we de-stigmatize any shame or criticism for doing so as well. It means that we get to know that inner child and practice ways to care for and help heal any part that hurts that your little one may still be carrying around. Inner child work also helps us create joy, lightness, and self-compassion in a world and culture that can get real heavy, real fast, and lasts really long.
If you struggle with anxiety, being overly self-critical, feeling busy all of the time, irritability, feelings of sadness or depression, trauma, making time for yourself, perfectionism, setting healthy boundaries, or feeling overwhelmed and taking everything very seriously, I want you to know that your inner child needs your help, love, and attention.
We can help improve our stress levels and adult relationships with ourselves and others when we work to heal our inner child. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by this concept if it is new to you. Don't fret. Inner child work is a process and the best part is, we get to have fun and try new things in the process.
You start to connect with and care for your inner child in a variety of ways. Here are 5 Ways to get started:
5 Ways To Care for Your Inner Child
Keep a photo of yourself as a child in a place that you regularly see such as your work space, the kitchen, on a door, or taped to a bathroom mirror. When you see the photo, check in with your inner child and ask her what she/he/they needs at that moment. Is it rest, a pep talk, a mini dance party, to get outside?
Schedule playdates for your inner child. Make intentional time to do childlike activities such as build a fort, roll down a hill, blow bubbles, watch your favorite kid movie, skip, make food that is comforting, jump rope, have a dance party, color, float in a big unicorn raft in the pool, lake, or ocean, listen to music that is fun and silly, lay on the grass and find shapes in the clouds.
Write inner child focused affirmations on post-it notes and place them around your home. These are words that you needed to hear as a kid and perhaps rarely or never did. (See our monthly affirmation list from our July 2021 newsletter for ideas)
Write a letter to your inner child. You may want to write about a specific experience in childhood from your adult perspective or offer empathy, love, encouragement through written words. Perhaps you write a list of questions such as "what do you need most from me right now?, what makes you happiest, what are you scared of, what makes you proud of yourself?"
Talk to a therapist. Not everyone’s childhood experiences were filled with joy, freedom, and lightness. Stressful experiences such as moving, changing schools, being bullied, divorce, abuse, neglect, death of a loved one or pet, having a caretaker with a substance abuse or mental health problem, or times when you felt embarrassed can all have an impact on our adult relationships and lives if left unchecked. There is no shame in connecting with a trained mental health professional to help heal childhood wounds. Trauma focused therapy such as EMDR, Ego-state work, or Internal Family Systems (IFS) are especially helpful to help heal past childhood wounds.
When we engage in play, as a child would, our nervous system is in a state of feeling safe. Therefore, taking moments to be silly and connect with our inner child is directly related to trauma recovery because unresolved trauma keeps our bodies in a state of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. These states are considered biological survival responses needed to seek safety when there is a real or perceived threat. Inner child work invites us to slow down, to be fully present, to be self-compassionate, and to not take things so seriously all of the time.
Adult responsibilities are too much for a small child, however, sometimes we lead our adult lives and relationships from a place of past, unresolved pain. For example, have you ever gotten into an argument with a partner and reacted in a way that felt overly stubborn or fearful? Presuming the relationship is overall health if your response didn't really match the situation this could be an indicator that your inner child (or teenager) was taking the reigns.
Inner child work allows our wise, adult selves to be the line leaders of our lives instead of our inner little one.
Additionally, just because we are biologically adults, does not mean that time for play, fun, softness, silliness, compassion, or joy gets lost. If you didn’t have these things in childhood, then it can be even more important to explore ways to get support in healing your inner child.
Here are 5 Things You Need To Know About Inner Child Work
You do not need to have had experienced trauma growing up in order to do inner child work.
Everybody can benefit from inner child work.
Inner child work improves our relationships with ourselves, others, and our own children.
Inner child work is truly a process. There is no right or wrong way. What feels great for one person may not for another.
You don't need to do it alone. Working with a therapist, sharing with loved ones your journey, or joining a support group that focuses on inner child work are all great ways to feel supported, have fun, and increase self-compassion.