You’ve probably made a few references to your inner child before.
“I’m channeling my inner child,” you might say, while jumping off swings at the park, chasing your roommate through the house with a Nerf gun, or diving into the pool with your clothes on.
Many trace the concept of an inner child to psychiatrist Carl Jung, who described a child archetype in his work. He linked this internal child to past experiences and memories of innocence, playfulness, and creativity, along with hope for the future.
This can go both ways, though: When childhood experiences negatively affect you, your inner child may continue to carry these wounds until you address the source.
“Each one of us has an inner child, or way of being,” says Dr. Diana Raab, a research psychologist and author. “Getting in touch with your inner child can help foster well-being and bring a lightness to life.”
She explains that a healthy inner child may seem playful, child-like, and fun, while an injured or traumatized inner child might face challenges as an adult, particularly when triggered by events that bring up memories of past wounds.
Ready to reach out to your inner child? Try these six strategies.
It’s OK to feel a little uncertain about the idea of an inner child. But you don’t have to look at this “child” as a separate person or personality. Instead, consider them a representation of your past experiences.
For most people, the past contains a mix of positive and negative events. These circumstances help form your character and guide your choices and goals as you grow older and eventually reach adulthood.
According to Kim Egel, a therapist in Cardiff, California, anyone can get in touch with their inner child and benefit from this process. But resistance or a lack of belief that you can get in touch can sometimes present a barrier.
If you have some lingering skepticism, that’s totally normal. Try looking at inner child work as a way of exploring your relationship with the past, nothing more. This perspective can help you approach the process with an attitude of curiosity.
Children can teach you a lot about life, from finding joy in small things to living in the moment.
If you struggle to think back to enjoyable childhood experiences, engaging in creative play with children can help rekindle these memories and put you back in touch with the enjoyment of simpler days.
Any type of play can have benefit. Games like tag or hide-and-seek can help you get moving and feel free and unrestrained again. Make-believe play can help you think back to childhood fantasies and what they meant to you.
If you faced certain difficulties or periods of trauma or disruption, for example, you may have imagined specific scenarios that helped you cope and feel more secure.
Making time to play with your children doesn’t just increase your sense of playfulness and youthful expression. It also has a positive impact on their own well-being, in part by contributing to the development of their inner self.
If you don’t have any children of your own, you might spend time with children of your friends or relatives.
Watching movies or television shows from your childhood, or rereading some of your favorite books, can also be a helpful way to stir up positive feelings.
Exploring recollections from the past can also help you get in touch with your inner child.
Photos and other mementos can help you tap back into the emotional space reflected in the images and words of the past, Egel explains. To look back, you might try activities like flipping through photo albums and school yearbooks, or rereading childhood diaries.
If your parents, siblings, or childhood friends have stories to share, these reminiscences might evoke feelings and memories you’d completely forgotten.
Picture yourself as a child, using old photos for guidance if necessary. Add detail to the scene by imagining your favorite outfit, a beloved toy, or a place you enjoyed visiting. Imagine where you were, who was with you, and what you were doing and feeling.
Do you feel lost, uncertain, or alone? Or strong, content, and hopeful?
If you find your inner child in a place of suffering, you can help them heal. But your inner child can also lend you strength: Regaining youthful feelings of wonder, optimism, and simple joy in life can help bolster confidence and well-being.
When getting to know your inner child, think about the things that brought you joy in childhood.
Maybe you biked down to the creek every summer with your best friends to swim or fish. Or perhaps you liked to spend summer vacation reading in your grandparents’ dusty attic. Maybe you spent hours on crafts, or roller-skated to the corner store for a snack after school.
As a child, you probably did plenty of things just for fun. You didn’t have to do them, you just wanted to. But you might have a hard time recalling the last time you did something in your adult life simply because it made you happy.
Creative activities like coloring, doodling, or painting can help, too. When you let your active mind rest, emotions you usually don’t consider can surface in your art, through your fingertips.
Some of these emotions might tie into buried or forgotten parts of self, such as your inner child.
One of the best ways to get in touch with your inner child is to open up a conversation.
“If we have wounds due to trauma, writing about that trauma can help us connect with the child within,” Raab explains.
“During this reconnection, we tap into and perhaps understand some of the reasons for adult fears, phobias, and life patterns. Understanding our inner child helps us see the reasons why we’ve become who we are today.”
Writing can be a powerful tool for connecting with your inner child, so you don’t need to speak out loud — though you certainly can, if it helps.
Writing a letter, or freewriting about childhood memories, can help you explore past experiences and sort through associated emotions.
Try holding a specific thought in your head to guide your letter or journaling exercise, or use stream-of-consciousness writing to express any thoughts that come to mind.
You can even frame it as a question-and-answer exercise. Allow your adult self to ask your child self questions, then listen to how the child responds.
Maybe your child self is small, vulnerable, and in need of protection and support. Maybe, on the other hand, it’s joyfully thriving. Answering any questions your child self has can help you begin healing inner vulnerabilities or distress.
It’s normal to feel a little nervous about what your inner child wants to share, especially if you’ve buried some negative past experiences or difficult emotions.
But think of this exercise as a way to establish and strengthen a bond between your current self and your child self.
If reaching out to your inner child triggers discomfort or painful emotions, including grief, traumatic memories, and feelings of helplessness or fear, Egel recommends seeking guidance from a trained mental health professional.
“A therapist can offer support and introduce you to coping strategies that can help you face trauma and emotions from the past,” she says.
Some therapists may have more experience and training with inner child work than others, Egel explains. “Asking potential therapists about their experience with inner child work can help you find the right person to support your growth and healing,” she says.
If possible, seek a therapist experienced with inner child therapy. This specific approach works from the idea that mental health symptoms, relationship concerns, and other emotional distress often stem from unresolved pain or repressed emotions.
Learning to “reparent” your inner child in therapy can then help you begin addressing and resolving these issues.
Finding your inner child doesn’t mean you’re immature or don’t want to grow up.
Rather, it can help make it easier to understand your adult experience, heal from pain in your past, and handle any future challenges with self-compassion.
Since tapping into this awareness of your child self can help you regain a sense of joy and wonder, you can even consider it a form of self-care.
You may not see or hear your inner child clearly, but forging a connection with this part of you can lead to a stronger, more complete sense of self.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.