There’s a vulnerable little child inside you who is aching for some love and understanding. But just maybe, the adult *cough, cough* has been a bit too busy? No worries! In this blog, I’m going to help you start a dialogue with your inner child and give you some great tips to get to know, protect, and celebrate them!
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of babysitting, you’ll know it’s hard work. I have been living with my niece and nephew for more than 10 years and it has been a surreal experience. I already feel like a mom to them.
It’s such a warm feeling. Making sure the kid is fed, rested, and happy can pretty much take up the whole day. But that one giggle or smile from them? Best thing ever!
Well, guess what? You’ve had a child by your side for the longest time and you’ve been ignoring the chance to spend time with them. Yes, your inner child.
Your inner child or the summation of your childhood experiences has been simmering away inside you and is now spilling over into your adult life. If you’ve been feeling anger, fear, anxiety, and stress for no explainable reason, your inner child is definitely asking for some attention.
Figuring out how to talk to and care for your inner child would probably rank as one of my top ten self-awareness practices. Thus, today I’m sharing some self-tested ways you can connect with your inner child and learn from it.
17 Important Activities to Protect Your Inner Child and Celebrate Them
Your inner child is part of yourself that is rooted in your childhood experiences.
Pioneering psychologist Carl Jung, credited with this concept, believed that it is this self that influences your actions and decisions.
This inner child has been collecting emotions and memories way before you were able to have structured thought – an unconscious foundation for the conscious perspectives you formed later in life.
Why Do You Need to Do Inner Child Work?
Imagine you’re in the first grade. Your teacher has just asked you to draw a picture of an evening in the park. You decide to make the sky blue like you’ve seen it in books again and again. Your teacher notices and points out in front of the whole class that evening skies are never bright blue. You’re embarrassed to be corrected in front of your friends. You probably decide that colors aren’t your strong suit.
Cut to when you’re twenty-two and you’re working on a presentation. But you’re waiting for a co-worker to choose a template because colors aren’t your ‘strong suit’.
You may have no recollection of that incident in your classroom but your subconscious is still supplying that little ‘self-vow’ to your adult mind.
Inner child work is important because much of adult personalities are the culmination of childhood experiences and the perspectives formed because of them.
Some of your strongest self-perceptions can be rooted in childhood situations that you had no control over.
Through inner child work you can:
- Identify any strong traumatic situations you experienced as a child
- Gain emotional intelligence, understanding how they connect to your present adult life and behaviors
- Give yourself the acceptance and love you need
17 Activities to Protect Your Inner Child
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed reading this, that’s alright! Getting in touch with your inner child after what might seem like forever, is scary. This is why I’ve put together a list of activities that can make a journey filled with love, compassion, and hope. Let’s go!
1. Accept Your Emotions
Yes, I’m starting with a difficult one. No one wants to believe there might be something off or incorrect in their lives.
Social media has sold us this picture-perfect idea of self-love while sunbathing on a beach or having a yoga routine.
Well, it’s so much more complex than that. First, it’s accepting that you’re not perfect, you need guidance, and that it’s going to take some time to get there.
If life has been off lately, I’m here to tell you it’s alright. Accepting that your inner child is hurting is one of the first crucial steps to protecting it.
2. Access Your Inner Child With a Letter
Imagine getting a letter from a childhood friend that explained old fights, reminisced great memories, and said that they missed you. Sounds so heartwarming, right? Sending your inner child a similar letter can be a beautiful way to start an inner dialogue.
Offer your inner child perspective on past painful situations. For example, you, perhaps, experienced absent, uninterested parenting making you feel lonely and neglected. However, over the years you realized your parents prioritized a stable livelihood for the home as a way of taking care of you.
Offering perspective does not necessarily condone the behavior but rather allows your inner child an explanation for things that were confusing when you were young.
Your letter could also discuss all the areas of comfort and reassurance your inner child needed in those situations. Using the same example, you could acknowledge that you indeed would have preferred a hug and quality time with your parents, over anything else.
Just vent it all out in the letter.
3. Acknowledge You Need Therapy
Everything seems perfect until the most random event makes you feel anxious or low. That’s probably because your inner child needs therapy.
As you grow up, you can tend to push down the scary, painful memories deep inside you, hoping they’ll go away forever. Unfortunately, they can affect you in unassuming ways and often during moments that are least expected.
Today, several mental health practitioners specialize in what is known as inner child therapy. Professionals trained in this space can help you become aware of the connection between your childhood experiences and adult life.
To figure out whether you need inner child therapy, Shari Botwin, a trauma therapist and author of Thriving After Trauma: Stories of Living and Healing, recommends asking questions like:
- Do you often feel like a victim?
- Do you let others dictate how you feel?
- Do you struggle to set boundaries in relationships?
- When you get upset in situations in the present, are the feelings you’re having all about that day—or related to things from your childhood?
- Do you frequently find yourself reliving experiences that already happened?
- Do you feel safer when you put walls up?
Answering these might be the perfect way to begin your process of healing.
4. Get to Know Your Inner Critic
Your inner critic is that voice inside you that will always point out where things can go wrong or keep you from taking too many ‘risks’. Your inner child, on the other hand, is free, spontaneous, and more focused on immediate pleasure. Guess what? They’re both competing for your attention.
Studies show that individuals who were overly criticized as children are more prone to self-criticism than adults. If you grew up receiving constant criticism, there’s a chance you have a sensitive inner child who is longing for validation.
Before you can comfort your inner child, however, you need to tone down your inner critic. Some of the ways you could do this are:
- Externalize your inner critic: Sit it on your couch or a chair and discuss it. Understand what it has to say.
- Identify any extreme thoughts that begin with words like “you’ll never be…” or “you’re a bad person”.
- Try and understand if the thoughts have a voice. Is it a parent, teacher, sibling, or neighbor?
By pulling the criticism outside so you can observe it (just like a petri dish in a lab!), you can now see the excessive harshness of it.
Psychologist, Rick Hanson, in an article for Ted, explains this well. He says, “Stepping back from the criticism to observe it can stop reinforcing it and help you dis-identify from it: In other words, you may hear it, but you don’t need to be it. This kind of calm witnessing can make the voice of your inner critic less intense and more reasonable”
5. Identify Your Emotional Triggers
There’s a chance you spend much of your adult life avoiding things that make you uncomfortable. As natural as that may be, merely brushing past discomforting moments doesn’t prepare you for the next time it will happen.
An emotional trigger could be an image, object, smell, place, or even a person that reminds you of a painful experience in your childhood. To protect your inner child, it is important that you first spend time identifying these.
Along with your therapist, take the time to understand what exactly triggered you and what about it is making you uncomfortable. This could be a painful process so you must give yourself time, patience, and self-compassion while doing this.
Once you have identified those triggers you’ll be in a far better position to protect your inner child from such situations or even guide them through it.
6. Hello, Inner Nurturer!
Remember your old friend – the inner critic? Right alongside is a much kinder voice – the inner nurturer, a friend that encourages you no matter what. Often though, we tend to focus far more on what our inner critic has to say.
How do you give your inner nurturer the remote? Start by trying these three tips:
- Put self-kindness first, every day: Figure out a small way to show yourself kindness every day – a walk, your favorite book, or a good meal. Acknowledge this as an activity meant for you.
- Give your inner nurturer the stage: When things go wrong, it’s always easy to find your inner critic. Instead, lean on your inner nurturer for empathy and compassion. A great way to start is by putting your hand on your heart and repeating, “I need you, can you be with me at this moment?”. Put a post-it on your mirror with the words “inner nurturer” if that helps as a reminder.
- Repeat affirmations: Prepare a set of mantras and affirmations that you can repeat to yourself with kindness.
7. Reward Your Inner Child With a Favorite Hobby
Netflix, Instagram, virtual chess – none of these were around twenty years ago. Yet, you found the most creative ways to kill time and have fun while you were at it.
As a kid, football, doodling, crafts or even playing by the swings were some of the simple joys that took up hours of my time.
According to an article by FortuneWell, engaging in such childhood favorites can take you back to your most positive childhood memories. These activities can act as a little ‘happiness anchor’, letting some of your best kiddie memories and their accompanying feelings into your adult life.
By revisiting these activities, you’re also permitting your inner child to have some fun without attaching the pressure of any tangible outcomes to it.
8. Rekindle an Old Friendship
Your childhood besties can be the strongest reminders of simpler times. Whatever happened to the time when your pal would yell your name outside your house or find ways to travel to school with you?
A great exercise would be to write down the names of all your childhood friends on a sheet of paper and a favorite memory next to each of them. Text them or connect with them on social media with a message saying ‘Hey, remember the time we…’. Trust me, your message is going to leave them with a smile and you with a new friend!
By reconnecting with people who you met before your adulthood and social circles, you’re acknowledging the role your inner child played in discovering the joys of friendships.
9. Make Time and Space for Play
That’s right. Real, easy, and fun activities that have nothing to do with your salary, social media bragging, or that trophy shelf in your study.
Play is how you probably discovered or perhaps, didn’t discover the world as a child. In an interview with NBC News, Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, Professor of Developmental Psychology at New York University explains the issues with not having played enough as a child. She says “Children that aren’t allowed to play experience a loss of self-motivation and run the risk of burn-out.”
For children who experienced responsibility early in life, the lack of play could truly result in an unsatisfied inner child in adulthood.
Incorporate play into your life by creating a time in the week or a small space in your home for it. Your playtime activity could be absolutely anything as long you do it solely for enjoyment and without being forced to.
Schedule that playdate in your calendar now!
10. Revisit Memories With Compassion
Your inner child could hold on to certain memories that can spill over into your adult life in unpredictable ways.
These could often be situations where you experience abuse, rejection, pain, or loneliness, without anyone around you offering comfort.
Together with a therapist, you can revisit those memories and offer yourself the love you need in those situations.
You could start by asking yourself questions such as:
- How old were you?
- Who was around you?
- How did you feel?
- What did you expect from the people around you?
The next time you experience a similar or related situation, you can give yourself the compassion you need as an adult. This could be in the form of taking a break, voicing self-affirmations, or reaching out to your therapist.
11. Stop Labeling Activities as Childish
So you have a favorite bowl, refuse to change your cereal flavor, and like jumping on the bed? That’s alright!
As you grow up, you may feel compelled to shed some of your childhood quirks or label them as silly.
However, these ‘silly’ parts might often be the most free, playful, and creative versions of your personality. Every time you push these instincts away, you’re telling your inner child that their needs are not important or valid.
Instead, try engaging with some of these harmless behaviors and continue to enjoy the little moments of joy they bring. Trust me, your inner child is smiling reading this!
12. Journal Religiously
Ever had a secret diary back in school? Bring it back!
Mental health practitioners wax eloquent about the benefits of journaling. Apart from the usual benefits of clarity and mental peace, journaling has also been known to help significantly with trauma.
A famous study by Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a social psychologist at the University of Texas, found that students who wrote about traumatic experiences reported better moods and less illness than those writing just about everyday experiences.
Instead of keeping all of life’s complex experiences inside of you, journaling can help you lighten some of your emotional burdens and help you recognize painful patterns that stemmed from your childhood.
You can try inner child journaling by:
- Keeping your adult self aside for a brief time and revisiting old memories in your childhood
- Write down the names of all the people in the memory, what they looked like, and what they were doing
- Ask yourself how you felt at that time and how you reacted
- Write down how you would’ve liked to feel instead
By journaling in this manner, you’re giving your inner child the platform to voice emotions that were never released or furthermore feel emotions that were not met with comfort.
Struggling with emotions and experiences that brought back difficult memories? Meditation can help you soothe and calm your inner child.
Meditating consistently can help you create a space for mindfulness, making you aware of your emotions and the places they’re coming from.
Secondly, meditation can help you practice feeling these emotions safely and compassionately.
If you experienced a lack of consolation or comfort as a child, offering your inner child this safe space to feel is a great way to navigate these troubling emotions.
14. Visit Old Childhood Haunts
The spots you spent your childhood in hold special meaning. Visiting these spaces can bring back a ton of painful and positive memories.
However, instead of ignoring or driving past these, revisiting them with a fresh perspective would be a safe way to acknowledge your inner child.
Head back to that school or playground and soak in the mixed memories. Write down
instances that you feel you need to dwell on further. Maybe call a friend to discuss and hear about their perspective.
And of course, give yourself the space to feel everything you need to.
15. Get Silly
Remember doing something for the pure goofiness of it? Playing with slime, making mud cakes, and spending hours making funny faces in the mirror, are a few that I won’t deny indulging in.
The bulk of our adult life is spent on hobbies that are structured, outcome-oriented, or just plain serious.
But guess what? Your inner child still thrives on nonsensical fun! So go ahead and figure out what’s that one ridiculous thing that can make you laugh.
16. Create a list of affirmations for yourself
Before you start thinking that affirmations are all hocus-pocus, let’s have a look at what the experts say.
In an article for The Washington Post, Claude M. Steele, a social psychologist at Stanford University says that “self-affirmations are some unique combination of identities or dimensions that we hold ourselves self-evaluatively accountable to”. People are essentially keen on maintaining views of themselves as good or skilled.
However, certain situations may threaten these views such as not securing a job or finding public speaking difficult. Such situations may also trigger memories of similar instances in your childhood, leaving your inner child vulnerable.
According to Steele, self-affirmations can be “a tool for self-defense” against these threats. They can remind you that you are safe, cared for, and capable.
Some affirmations you could choose are:
- “I am safe”
- “I am important”
- “I know what I need”
- “I deserve compassion”
- “I am getting better”
Remember, customize these, perhaps with your therapist, to understand what you need the most.
17. Be patient
Healing is not a drive-through meal, it’s a long, leisurely dinner in a restaurant where the dessert takes a bit too long to arrive.
If you’ve already begun the journey of connecting, healing, and protecting your inner child let me be the first to say – good job! Loving and building a relationship with yourself isn’t always easy and you should be incredibly proud of the brave work you’re doing.
But now, give yourself some time. Be accepting of all the hits and misses that can accompany your inner child’s journey. Have some fun with it! Make a scrapbook or a fun video to commemorate every milestone.
And no matter what happens, remember to keep giving yourself love and compassion, every step of the way.
French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard once said “So, like a forgotten fire, a childhood can always flare up again within us”.
You can push it, sit on it, wish it away but can’t avoid it. Your inner child will always play a role in determining your decisions, personality, and goals. Instead of ignoring the most important player on your team, you might do better by calling for a team huddle now and then.
S0, high-five to your inner child from me! You’ve got this!