We all have an inner child, but most of us don’t pay much attention to that part within us. If you are on a healing journey, inner child work can be one of the most valuable ways to shift old behaviours. Becoming aware of your inner child and recognising when that part of you is in control is the first step. The next step is learning how to love, nurture and discipline your inner child.
Who is Your Inner Child?
Your inner child is that precious part of your personality that lives within you and feels like a little girl or boy. The inner child feels deep emotions and desires security, trust, nurturing, affection. He/She is also the frivolous and fun part of you, the playful, energetic and creative you.
However, the inner child is also that part of you that carries the emotional pain experienced when you were a child. This comes out in feelings of insecurity, fear, guilt, anger, shame and loneliness. These feelings represent how we reacted to circumstances when we were too young to question things in life. Whenever we are triggered by situations in the present and we overreact emotionally, we are in the child mode, reacting to old painful emotions. We are reacting to old tapes that reinforce our negative beliefs about ourselves. The old tapes are usually the voices of parents or significant others. We are once again feeling the way we felt back then: hurt, abandoned, helpless, hopeless, ashamed or sad.
How does your inner child react when triggered? Some of us react by drinking, drugging ourselves or over-eating. Or we may turn inward and become depressed, or turn outward and attack with anger or rage or with panic attacks. It is our wounded little boy or girl that is reacting and running our lives at that time. It can feel like your whole being is feeling that way. But it is only a part of you….a very young part.
What Can You do When Your Inner Child has Taken Over?
When triggered ask yourself: “How old do I feel right now?” and “What does this situation remind me of?” You may be able to recall a time when you felt exactly the same way (unloved, blamed, disapproved of, unappreciated). Don’t worry if you can’t recall all of the details. Remind yourself that you are reacting out of a child part of you because of something that happened a long time ago. It is important to validate your inner child’s feelings. Love and comfort your inner child. Tell him/her that it’s okay, you’re here for them. Tell them “We’re 30 years old now and we can handle this. It’s not Dad yelling and belittling us. It’s okay.” As you talk to yourself this way, you will begin to regain your adult self. You will notice how different you feel when the adult you is back in control. Treat your inner child with firmness but love at the same time. Don’t let them run your life. If you do, you may find you have all sorts of problems, especially in your relationships with partners, bosses and others.
We need to cultivate a healthy relationship with our inner child. We need to learn how to love, nurture and discipline our inner child.
Inner Child Activities
In order to get in touch with your inner child and the feelings expressed by Him/Her, try some of the following activities:
- Find some old photos of you at different ages. Spend time with each photo, reflecting on you as a little girl/boy. What was happening at that time in your life? What feelings are associated with the photo? Do you like the child you were? Write in your journal what you remember and how it makes you feel today. Repeat this process with the other photos. Choose a photo and carry it around with you for a week, looking at it throughout the day. Perhaps choose one photo and buy a frame for it and place it on your bedside table or on your desk at work. Better still, enlarge one of the photos and hang it on a wall in your home. Be reminded of the precious child you were and remember that you still have that part within you today and honor it.
- Try to recall what your favourite toys were when you were a child. Maybe it was a teddy bear or a doll or truck. Whatever it was, go shopping at a toy store and look for one exactly the same. Take it home and place it in a significant place (on your bedside table, in your office, on a shelf in the lounge room). Spend time over the next month, holding the toy, playing with it, cuddling it (if it is a teddy), etc. Enjoy the toy and let your inner child re-experience some of the fun he/she had with that toy.
- Do some fun kid activities like visiting the zoo, swinging on a swing in a playground, climbing a tree, buying an ice-cream, drawing or painting, playing an instrument. Think about what activities you enjoyed as a child and try to set aside time to enjoy them. This will help you re-connect with your inner child.
- Nurture your inner child daily: You can parent yourself and meet your needs by doing special caring activities for yourself. Some examples are: Take a warm bath, have breakfast in bed, buy yourself a rose, soak your feet in a bucket filled with warm water and drops of lavender oil, take the dog for a walk, have a manicure, watch the sunset, go to bed early with a good book and a cup of tea, go for a walk or run, play a computer game, buy yourself something special, watch a good movie (“The Kid” or “The Pursuit of Happiness” are two I like), feed the ducks at the park, work on a puzzle, soak in a hot tub or jacuzzi, take a weekend retreat, go for a bike ride, bake or cook something special just for you (chocolate chip cookies are great!), listen to a bedtime story online or a simple meditation. Think of other ideas that your inner child would really love and then do them! Don’t forget to ask your inner child: “What do you need right now?” Listen to his/her answer and try to meet the need.
- Write a letter to your inner child: Use your journal and make letter writing a part of your daily writing. Letters can be short; just a few sentences are fine. Write letters to the child that you were: write to that sad little 4 year old, the angry 8 year old and the lost 13 year old. Tell the child that you love him/her. Tell them that you understand why they are sad, angry, lost, etc. Tell them that you are from their future and you know what they have experienced better than anyone else. Express to your inner child(ren) how you feel about him/her.
- Using your non-dominant hand, write a letter back from your wounded and hurt child self. By using your non-dominant hand, you get in touch with the child part of you. When you are finished, read the letters out loud (both your letter to your child self and the response from your child self). Notice what feelings come up for you and write about this in your journal.
- Use your journal and draw pictures of yourself at different ages. Start with the young you – 4 or 5 years old. It can be a stick figure or something more elaborate, depending on your drawing skills. After you draw the picture, use your non-dominant hand to write a few positive descriptions of who you were at that age. Examples might be: sweet, quiet, lively, funny. Then move on to you as an older child – at 8 to 10 years old. Do the same activity for a variety of ages up to adulthood. Each time write the descriptive words that describe you.
- Here are 6 nurturing messages you can give to your inner child on a daily basis:
- I believe in you
- I have faith in you
- I know you can handle whatever life gives you
- You are listened to
- You are cared for
- You are very important to me
- Remember, if you have been judging and criticizing your inner child, he/she may not be willing to come out of hiding for awhile. To re-build trust with your inner child, start by treating her/him with compassion and love. Turn the volume down on your inner critic and turn the volume up on the wise one within.
A Word about Discipline
All children need discipline and your inner child is no different. Of course it must be balanced with lots of love, but it is an important part of your growth. If you let your inner child always “have its way,” you will experience many problems. For example, your inner child might convince you to eat a tub of ice cream every time you feel hurt and lonely. Or it might scream and abuse others when it does not get what it wants. Your inner child needs you to be in control as an adult. You will need to step into your power to do this. Don’t allow the inner child to run your life. Just like you would not allow your own young child to drive a car or plan the grocery list. Learn to say no to your inner child in a firm voice that means business. “No, we are not buying another tub of ice cream!” “No, we are not going to yell at our partner – let’s go for a walk.” When you combine this with your loving and nurturing voice, your inner child will feel safe and loved. It will feel seen and heard.
When you learn to love, nurture and discipline your inner child on a regular basis, you will see your life begin to shift.