How To Reparent Your Inner Child
Personal growth, mental health recovery, and spiritual growth will all, at some point, lead you to finding out how to reparent your inner child.
When you have recurrent patterns of thoughts and behaviours, easily triggered emotions, or find yourself repeating emotional flashbacks, and nothing else has yet helped you shift these, you probably need to attend to healing your inner child. In fact, as I’ll explain, you’re likely to need to heal your inner children.
Reparenting your inner child is part and parcel of healing your inner child, and I use these terms interchangeably. Children heal themselves when they are parented well, regardless of which adult provides that parenting.
Kind, skilful, nurturing parenting automatically leads to children getting what they need to thrive and fully be themselves. When we miss out on (some of) the parenting we needed as kids, we have some catching up to do.
This article gives you the what, why and how to reparent your inner child, helping to heal your inner child, and recovering from childhood trauma.
This article is unashamedly long! If you’re going to parent anyone, there’s no point half doing it ;-) Grab yourself a mug – no, make that a pot – of tea, get comfy and read on.
Are you an impatient sausage? Click this link → dive straight into the how-to.
Signs You Need To Heal Your Inner Child
You know you have inner child healing to do when you have a few or more of:
- Recurrent self-sabotage patterns
- Unhealthy habits you can’t kick
- Chronic inner critic
- Finding it nigh on impossible to ask for help
- Disproportionate anger issues
- Negative behaviour against yourself
- Feelings of numbness, apathy, depression (with no apparent cause)
- Chronic anxiety
- Struggles with self-care
- Treating other people badly
- Unable to connect properly with other people
- Not understanding yourself, or how or why you do things
- The persistent feeling there’s something wrong with you.
- Difficulties parenting your children
- Lack of emotional regulation e.g. bottling things up for days then exploding at a tiny not-actually-an-incident-but-bloody-well-feels-like-it thing
- Frequent relationship difficulties
- Known traumatic experiences in your childhood e.g. adoption, witnessing or being subjected to parental violence, emotional neglect
- Too frequent occasions when you behave like a total two-year old, or teenager, or anywhere in between, in ways that cause you and/or the people around you pain.
These issues almost always have their roots in infancy and childhood experiences. You make a lot of progress at fixing the symptoms, but to truly heal them you need to get to the root.
Caution! For some of you reading this, it could hit you hard. Lifting the lid on these issues and recognising what you went through as traumatic can give rise to strong emotional responses – which can trigger or traumatise (emotionally get stuck in) you.
When you first discover that experiences you thought were ‘normal’ were actually abuse, neglect, or some other kind of not-normal negative event, it’s normal to have a strong – or strong-and-numbed-out reaction. If you find yourself dissociating, avoiding reading the rest of this article, or you feel like diving into your favourite distraction/avoidance habit, that’s a normal kind of response. Be gentle with yourself (that’s a re-parenting thing, too ;-) )
You might find it helpful to look up your Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) score to calibrate your sense of what you’ve been through.
Why do we need to heal & reparent our inner child?
TL;DR: You missed out on parts of your development growing up. To be a fully mature (nb: mature /= boring) adult, all the different parts of you that need to grow up have to get a chance to do so. Physically, emotionally, mentally…
When you’ve tried all the things – meditation, healthy eating, exercise, journalling, even therapy – and your issues persist, you need to go deeper to find and resolve them at the roots.
Your personal growth and development, mental health, and spiritual growth will all stall out at a certain point if you avoid healing your inner child issues. Like dandelions, issues grow back unless the root is taken care of.
The root(s) of many recurring mental and emotional health problems lie in inner child issues. Feelings you had to repress or suppress at the time. Beliefs you built up about yourself and the world we live in – beliefs that helped you survive then, but that don’t necessarily help you thrive now.
Chronic anxiety, depression, and behaviours such as not being able to set consistent boundaries for oneself are habits and coping strategies that often stem from inner child trauma. You can manage your anxiety, depression and self-sabotage behaviours for years – but to get out of them? You need to go to the root.
Gabor Mate, author of When The Body Says No, writes that underneath addiction, we find pain. Pain, in fact any emotion stuck in the body, is trauma. Bessel van de Kolk explores this thoroughly, yet approachably, in The Body Keeps The Score.
Finding the pain, tending to it, letting it pass, is how we heal ourselves. When the pain we experienced was during our infancy and childhood, we can interact with the forgotten-but-not-gone inner child parts of ourselves to help deal with the underlying pain.
Healing your inner child is all about helping all the various parts of yourself to grow up. Through the process, you become a better parent to yourself – and consequently a better parent or parent-role-model to other people in your life.
Reparenting yourself is not about repeating everything your parents did, but often involves unlearning that, and discovering afresh how to parent yourself healthily.
Heal the trauma – give the inner child the healing they need – and the need for the coping strategies (including anxiety and depression) and unhealthy habits lessens.
Every child needs the same basic support ingredients to grow up into an emotionally healthy, mature adult. When these support ingredients are missing, and/or when there are traumatic events or circumstances that get in the way of this support getting to the child, parts of the child never grow up.
Self-care is self-parenting.
The problem being, when we learn unhealthy parenting from our parents and caregivers, when we’re in a culture that doesn’t have healthy parenting norms (yes, I said it ;-) ) and when we have brains that fall outside the typical range of expectations, we don’t have healthy parenting models to watch, learn from, or absorb.
We have to unlearn, relearn, and learn from scratch. Let’s see what we’re unlearning.
Mainstream parenting advice in Western countries sucks. We’re obviously not raising humans well – when you look at the incidence of mental and emotional health issues, and chronic-stress induced physical illnesses, the evidence is clear.
Western parenting is often against the nature of children, of humans. It doesn’t build the skills necessary for emotionally mature & healthy living.
Harsh? Perhaps – but perhaps justifiably so. I’d take you on a little journey if Michaeleen Doucleff hadn’t done it so wonderfully in her book Hunt Gather Parent.
In short, we don’t parent kids well, they grow up into adults who don’t parent their kids well, and so and and so forth until fewer and fewer kids get what they need, when they need it, to grow up into mentally, socially and emotionally well-equipped adults.
Those of us currently struggling with parenting our kids have *two* parenting jobs to do: reparenting ourselves and parenting our kids. This job is more complex when you as a parent and/or your kids have atypical brains.
Atypical brains a.k.a. neurodivergence
Kids with brains outside the ‘normally expected brain’ in Western societies – gifted, ADHD, autistic, highly sensitive, high needs, dyspraxic, dyslexic… – get extra challenges and less validation and support than middle-of-the-road kids. The sense of isolation and loneliness that comes with having a brain and experiences that don’t fit the same model as everybody else’s is a particular kind of trauma itself.
Let’s run the numbers:
1 in 5 is highly sensitive, 1 in 20ish is really highly sensitive, and 1 in 100 or fewer are super-highly sensitive.
1 in 12 or so is likely ADHD (underdiagnosed in female-presenting ADHD)
1 in 50 is autistic (underdiagnosed in female-presenting autistic characteristics)
1in 100 is gifted, 1 in 1000 – 100000 is highly or profoundly gifted
We are statistically atypical. When your brain is atypical in 2 or more ways, you’ve very statistically atypical.
To put it into context: take a high school with 1000 students. You were quite possibly the only one with your kind of brain in that school when you were there. Your teachers might only encounter 6 students like you across their lifetime-long teaching careers – and that’s only if you’re in their classes! Would they have known what to do with you? How to teach you? How to guide you and your unusual brain through your schooling?
The combination of extra challenge and less validation and support builds up layer after layer of micro- or macro- trauma, wherein the child has extra emotional responses going on thanks to their differences, and isn’t helped to process them, also because of their differences. Experiences of invalidation are also very likely, which add to the trauma load.
Research on highly sensitive children (HSC) shows that the effects of parenting are amplified: HSCs who receive healthy parenting have much better outcomes than observed in non-HSCs, while HSCs who receive unhelpful parenting are much more adversely affected than children who aren’t HSCs.
This is well covered by Alice Miller in her book The Drama Of The Gifted Child. Giftedness – like many other atypical brain traits – is hereditary. Gifted kids who don’t get what they need as children, grow up into emotionally unhealthy adults. These gifted but emotionally underequipped adults then have their own children, but are unable to give them enough healthy parenting.
As these children are also likely to be gifted, they are strongly affected by the unhelpful parenting. They come up with often ingenious ways of working around their parents’ issues – coping strategies, defence mechanisms… – but these ultimately don’t serve the children themselves. The cycle continues with each subsequent generation, until a cycle-breaker does precisely what their name indicates.
Atypically-brained kids don’t get everything they need in childhood (traumatising), and get quite a lot of what they don’t need (traumatising). Healing and reparenting the inner child is a critical part of the recovery process as an adult – and stops the run of trauma through the generations if you have kids yourself.
Positive feedback looping
As you can see, being underquipped and going through more challenge than typically-brained kids leads to self-reinforcing feedback loops.
More atypically, less understanding and support.
More trauma, less ability to process.
More coping strategies and defence mechanisms that help you survive, less authentic relating with yourself and other people.
More self-reliance, fewer supportive connections with caring humans.
More mental health and emotional issues, fewer tools in your toolkit for self-care and self-repair.
What’s more, when you’re raised in a family with an unhealthy culture, you take on unhealthy norms, and you don’t get as much chance to absorb healthy parenting models.
Each family is its own microcosmic culture. In some families, abuse is normal. Psychological abuse is normal. Violence is normal. Emotional neglect is normal.
Unhealthy parenting is common. It’s so common, it’s almost too obvious to register that it’s not healthy, because it’s normalised. It would be great if healthy parenting were the norm, and unhealthy parenting was really in the minority, but it’s not.
55% of infants get what they need emotionally from their parents/caregivers. 45% don’t – that’s nearly half of us!
1 in 10 under-5s has experienced physical violence from a parent/caregiver.
By the time children grow into teenagers, 1 in 4 reports violence or abuse from their parents/caregivers.
The real figures are likely to be higher than that, especially when you take psychological abuse and emotional neglect into account.
Psychological abuse – of which emotional neglect is a subset – is like being indoctrinated into believing false things about yourself and the world you’re in. You grow up in a micro-cult. You don’t know it’s abuse.
Emotional neglect is hard to spot – you can be physically well cared-for, but grow up living in an emotionally cold and barren desert where everybody’s needs for warmth and affection are ignored. Or an angry furnace-like volcano with a chronically hot-tempered parent. Or lost at sea, in a chaotic mess of emotions that never flow through, but just swirl around buffeting everyone. It’s so normal for you, you don’t know how unhealthy it is for you. Jonice Webb has great resources on emotional neglect, for example her book Running On Empty.
Stepping out of the family environment, leaving for university, moving in with a boyfriend/girlfriend, or heading out on your own, might be the first time when part of you – often an at-first unconscious part of you – starts to question what you grew up with and to see its flaws. Up until then, you were in survival mode.
My own suspicion is that a lot of university students’ depression and mental health issues have their roots in unhealthy family dynamics that rise to the surface for healing when the young adult steps out of the home and feels safe enough to let down their guard – the guard they don’t even know they’re holding up.
At this stage, there’s quite a lot of mental re-educating needed to help the young adult see that they didn’t get what they needed, they did get what they didn’t need, their coping behaviours make sense, their emotional responses to all of that are not only healthy but also totally valid, and that there’s a way forward through this into healthier states of mind and ways of living.
Healing from childhood trauma
Trauma recovery – of which healing and reparenting your inner child is a critical and unmissable part – can be split into three interwoven phases:
- Safety and Stabilisation
- Coming to Terms with Traumatic Memories
- Integration and Moving On
(Judith Herman, referenced by Janina Fisher in Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma).
In reality, we weave all three together. Sometimes with more of one aspect than the others, but they all progress simultaneously (but not always at the same rate).
Support and guidance for all three stages are present in healthy human-centred parenting: adults and older children provide safety and stability for younger children, help them come to terms with painful experiences, and taking care of that process enables the younger children to integrate what just happened and move on.
Imagine a child who’s fallen over and scraped their knee. How would you tend to them? You’d probably (especially if you’ve done First Aid training) first make sure they’re safe. You’d assess them, physically and emotionally. You’d attend to their scraped knee. You’d listen to their story and help them understand what’s going on with their knee, if needs be. You’d offer them comfort, reassuring words, a hug if they want that. After a while, they’d settle: the tears fade, the shock wears off, they feel ready to get up and go run again.
The same happens for emotional bumps and bruises, too.
When you don’t receive care, attention, and kindness from the adults and older children around you – you’re left with the painful experience and you don’t get to see, hear, feel – and thereby learn – how to handle painful experiences.
You also feel all the feelings and think all the thoughts about how people don’t care for you, you’re not important, you’re alone, abandoned, ignored. Faced with abuse, you hurt – and you feel upsettingly alone in that hurt – but you learn to block your feelings and as an adult you wonder why you’re numb much of the time.
Healing from childhood trauma involves creating and providing your inner child with safety and stability, mastering enough understanding and skills to come to terms with your experiences, and facilitating your integration of that whole process – which naturally leads to you being able to move on from those experiences.
All of these are learnable skills – for how else would children acquire them but through learning?
As an adult, you have learning to do, you have unlearning to do, and all of that is possible with time, effort and the right resources and support that works for you.
What is inner child healing?
Inner child healing is giving your inner children (yes – there are many of you!) what they missed out on before.
- Some inner children simply want to be seen and to be heard.
- Some inner children want cuddles and affection.
- Some inner children are angry about what they experienced.
- Some feel sad, lonely, abandoned or rejected.
- Some need help understanding their experiences.
- Some need acceptance.
Many inner children – especially non-typical children (gifted, highly sensitive, neurodivergent…) need validation and affirmation, that how they are is how they are, that how they experience the world is valid, that how they respond to the world is valid – and that all of this is ok.
You may recognise some or in fact all of these needs as what a good parent would provide. That’s exactly why I happily mix my terms: inner child healing and reparenting your inner child are more or less the same thing, once you’ve learned what good parenting is.
Much of therapy, let’s be straight here, is the therapist modelling emotionally-present parenting to you. Awareness of feelings. How to manage your feelings in everyday life. Communication skills. We miss out on so much as kids and suffer – then make up for – the deficit as adults.
What is an ‘inner child’?
First, let’s drop the idea that ‘you’ are a single process. You are multiple processes all going along. You’ll have your inner child, your inner teen, your inner grown-up, your inner lover, your inner bookworm, your inner party-animal, your inner smartarse, your inner critic…
When we talk therapeutically about inner children, we’re referring to parts or processes in you that have their roots in your childhood years. These parts of you are still that age, no matter the age your body is now.
You have an inner child part for each emotional or experiential process you went through that didn’t complete.
- That time you injured yourself and no one cared for you? There’s an unhealed part.
- All those times you saw your parents too busy arguing with one another to attend to you? There are quite a few unhealed parts.
- The times your parents weren’t available to listen to and support you? There’s an unhealed part or two.
- Those times your parents ignored their responsibilities to you, didn’t set you clear boundaries, or offer you guidance about how to tackle things?There are many unhealed inner child parts.
Each unresolved experience adds a stash of unprocessed emotions to your stockpile. Those emotional stockpiles are what get triggered and cause you to over- or under-react as an adult.
- Your partner is injured, and you feel frozen? That’s an unhealed child part that doesn’t know how to tend to injuries, feels unable to give it a go, and possibly an emotional flashback to the time(s) your own injuries and upsets weren’t attended to.
- Your kids are angry, and you blow up into rage, masking underneath the feeling that you just can’t cope with their anger? That’s an unhealed child part that saw too much anger while you were growing up, that you felt you couldn’t cope with (by the way, you shouldn’t have had to cope with witnessing that, either). You weren’t shown how to handle your own anger – or skilfully attend to other people’s.
- Your wife is upset, and you mentally check out of the situation? That’s an unhealed child part that never learned the skills for listening and supporting people – and probably some resentment that you’re being asked to do something for someone else that you missed out on receiving for yourself.
- You get more responsibilities at work, and you’re trying to do everything to make everybody else happy? That’s an unhealed inner child part that wasn’t supported in how to take on and handle responsibility, or shown how to set boundaries to protect themselves. And probably an inner child who’s embarrassed and ashamed that they are struggling in the first place, so doesn’t feel able to ask for help.
We have inner child parts from all ages of our childhood and infancy. Any age when we clicked into survival mode, some emotion got stuck, a process didn’t complete, part of your necessary development didn’t happen, can result in an inner child part or, more accurately, an incomplete inner child process to bring kindly and gently to completion.
Some issues can even be traced intuitively, somatically, to your in-utero experiences, especially if your birth parent had a difficult time or the pregnancy wasn’t wanted. Healing from in-utero experiences, as well as inner child healing and reparenting, is something I help clients with, when necessary. As the saying goes, what you don’t repair, you repeat.
Your birth experience, your first six to eight weeks, fundamentally set you up with the first things you need after birth. Acceptance, recognition, and welcome from the adults around you is critical to feel safe out of the womb, and to feel like you belong in the world.
Human brains develop through childhood, with physical, emotional and mental abilities developing over the first couple of decades. Interruptions to these processes literally mean your brain doesn’t develop properly. Thanks to neuroplasticity, you can compensate for and build up these parts later on in life, catching up on what you missed out on.
Even your adult parts need looking after. The early twenties you struggling with a break-up? The mid-twenties redundancy? Becoming a parent yourself and feeling totally at sea and ill-equipped? Mid-life crisis you, needing some care and attention? The bereavement you went through? All these parts need tending to – some more than others.
It’s human to need care and attention from yourself and other humans to survive and thrive.
Why would we not want to heal our inner child?
Let’s face it: reason number one is that it’s probably going to hurt.
Part of you is probably (read: almost certainly) trying to protect you from pain you already experienced and squirreled away. This part is busy avoiding the work of finding, healing and reparenting your inner child who experienced that pain.
However: you’ve already survived the experiences that caused you pain. Now you’re steady, safe, and ready, you can let the pain out. You can allow that experience to integrate fully into your past – and it’ll no longer affect you in the myriad ways that unhealed inner child trauma does.
By now, you know that avoiding healing your inner child parts is leads to more problems than tending to and reparenting your inner child will.
Reason aside, for the moment, there are emotional factors at play here. Not healing and reparenting our inner child fits into three categories: avoidance, resistance, and distraction. Here are a few common themes that pop up. If you have any of these, that’s normal.
- Resistance: I don’t need to do it a.k.a. I’ve already fixed XYZ trauma…
- Family patterning
- Trauma bonds
- I’ll have to review / cut off some of my relationships.
- It’s going to be too hard, take too long.
- It’s where my drive comes from. I need my spite!
- My story will change.
- I’ll have to grow up and I like being irresponsible!
- It feels disrespectful to my parents who did so much for me.
- There are bigger problems in the world than my mental health.
These are all valid responses. Some of them are true. Some are true and necessary. Some aren’t true, but have worked for you for a long time and you’re not sure how you’d operate in the world without them.
You might want to carry on with some or all of these. One step at a time, I say.
When you’re struggling to get past them, though, ask yourself this: How is this working for me so far? ;-)
Resistance, in whatever form, usually shows us the way. It may well look like a sign saying “Here be dragons” but that’s to be expected, right? ;-) It shows you’re on the right path.
Resistance shows you that you might need to slow down – or push a little harder.
Resistance shows you what you might need: some encouragement, guidance, or tender support, for instance.
Getting to know the resistance itself often unfolds the next part of the path for you. Self-healing is magical like that.
When is the right time to heal your inner child?
You have two options here: now or later!
Actually, you only have one:
You’re parenting yourself all the time.
How you parent yourself is up to you.
Taking on the deliberate intention to reparent yourself kindly and heal your inner child is one of those significant bigsmall steps in your self-healing process.
It becomes a guiding star for you:
- How can I parent myself kindly?
- What would a healthy parent do now?
- How can I bring my kind and nurturing parent-self into this situation?
Many people turn intentionally towards inner child work when it’s no longer avoidable. You’ve been metaphorically hit on the head so many times by the same unhelpful patterns and habits that you have to go there to get past them.
Many people are guided there by their therapists who, with the benefit of an experienced eye, see the behaviours that show the truth behind the claim of ‘my childhood was fine, my parents did nothing wrong.’
And many people knew all along, of course, that their parents/caregivers were messing it up, and actively search out ways to avoid making the mistakes their parents did.
There’s much more understanding these days (writing in 2021) about the origins of long-term mental health issues. It’s more about what’s happened to you – and not about what’s wrong with you.
In the 80s and 90s chronic depression, for example, was thought to be an unfortunate and inherent chemical imbalance in the brain. We now know that chronic depression often comes about as a response, a coping mechanism, to painful events early on in one’s life. It doesn’t simply ‘appear’ in unfortunate individuals afflicted by it. There’s a reason it came about.
Whenever you’re ready to crack on, here’s the overview on how to reparent your inner child. Obviously, be aware of and apply context, nuance, and discernment (credit to Randi Buckley and her excellent work on boundaries for that trio) in applying this to yourself. Every person has their own set of circumstances, experiences, brain-typology. Apply this in the ways that fit you.
How To Reparent Your Inner Child
Reparenting your inner child is much like being a parent to an actual child. You support them in developmentally appropriate ways. The big difference, of course, is that they’re internal parts of you.
Healing your Inner Child(ren) is all about being a secure adult attachment figure for yourself – providing your inner children with safety, support, tenderness, kindness, and the other qualities they need to thrive and flourish. Bearing these target qualities in mind, orienting yourself towards developing them more strongly, helps enormously.
As you reparent your inner child, you become an increasingly better skilled, kinder, and more compassionate – and fun! – parent because your own issues are resolved and hence can’t be triggered in those ways again.
Models of parenting
If you’re a parent, you’ll have some tools in your kit already. However: if you weren’t parented completely by the adults around you as a child, your toolkit will be missing a few pieces AND most likely will include tools that really aren’t fit for purpose.
If you want to properly nerd out on this over the next few weeks/months/years, here are a few book recommendations for you.
Sue Gerhardt’s Why Love Matters focuses on the early years and why parent-child bonding is so critical in helping the infant’s brain development. Not just their thinking and processing, but the actual structures that build in the brain.
Homecoming by John Bradshaw takes you through from infancy to adulthood, with an overview of what children typically need at different developmental stages. Expect information and exercises.
Jessica Fern’s Polysecure provides a great tour of attachment and trauma-informed healing from an adult perspective, in the context of relationship and improved relating with oneself as an important component of relating with others.
Michaeleen Doucleff’s Hunt Gather Parent takes the reader on an amazing tour of parenting around the world, for more healthy, person-centred ways of raising children. She dissects Western parenting ideology and puts the reader back onto a more human and humane path.
If the books above take you too far, too fast away from the known territory of Western parenting styles, James Jongeward’s Born To Win is a handy bridge across. He introduces Transactional Analysis – a three-part model of Parent / Adult / Child that helps you orient which behaviours, thoughts, and feelings are coming from which part of yourself, and what to do with them.
Janina Fisher’s Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma is a superbly clear, concise, and practical workbook for both self-healing support and therapy session work.
Here’s how to reparent your inner child
The nutshell version:
- Find your inner child(ren)
- Make contact with them
- Communicate with them
- Build trust with them
- Find out what they need
- Provide them with what they need
- Rinse and repeat
These are not discrete phases. Nor do they form an orderly queue.
You’ll find yourself doing some kind of tango back and forth across the list. Don’t worry about it, just keep swimming.
Let’s go through these in more detail.
1. Find your inner child(ren)
Let’s assume you have some inner children. How do we find them? You have options.
First, you may have clear memories of the kinds of adverse childhood experiences you went through. From there, you can take an informed guess at the ages and experiences you went through, what you got from your caregivers and what you missed out on getting.
Next, with skill in internal observation (interoception) and self-observation, you get to know your inner child parts.
Through exercises such as meditation, you become familiar with observing your mental stream of thoughts. Some people get images, some have language-based thoughts, some clear voices in their heads… Whatever mode of thinking, get a sense of the general tone and feel of your thinking. Are they shouty? Whispery? Irritated? Whiney? Relaxed? Uptight? Get to know your inner voices. How old do they seem to be?
Notice your behaviour when you’re ‘out of sorts’ – how old are you acting? What kind of language are you using? Pouty toddler? Whiney teen? Scared pre-teen?
Some grown-up sounding parts are actually scared child parts dressed up as adults. The raging grown-up? A scared child-part putting on a raging grown-up act to protect itself, for instance.
Using picture cards helps you to access information in yourself that you might not normally be aware of. There are plenty of card sets available, from emotion decks for kids, collage, situational illustrations, abstract forms, as well as esoteric options such as tarot and oracle cards.
If you have access to photos from your childhood, have a look through. See what catches your attention. How did Little You experience the world? What kinds of support were available, from whom?
In your journal, you could try your hand at writing exercises – Homecoming by John Bradshaw is full of these.
Working with a therapist, you might be guided through inner child work in a variety of ways. Reflection practices, visualisations, dialogue, two-person journalling – there are lots of tools in the therapy repertoire.
Whatever age your inner children are, bodywork and intuitive energy work are also good options for contacting and communicating with these parts of yourself, and releasing the emotions they’re holding on to for you.
I offer a combination of dialogue, intuitive work, and counselling to guide and support clients in finding and communicating with their inner children. Having a number of tools – and people – in your kit is handy for this kind of work!
Whichever methods of finding your inner child work for you, use them! The more you do this, the easier and faster it becomes. Getting stuck does and will happen, so expect it. See the section above on resistance: here be dragons!
2. Make contact with them
When you find your inner child, you know that they’re there. But do they know you – their big, friendly, reliable adult – is there?
Some inner kids are shy. Some are reluctant. Others want to hog centre stage and take over entirely!
Cultivate some flexibility in how you approach them – step into the kind, caring, present adult-parent role that adapts to meet the child where they are.
Introduce yourself. They might not realise you’ve all grown up and are now in your 30s or 40s.
See how they respond.
Like any communication with another human, you build up rapport, trust and a felt sense of connection over time and through the course of multiple interactions. Be patient – they’re not necessarily going to give you all of the answers straight away.
My intuitive gifts mean I can make contact with clients’ inner child parts directly (actually, they often just turn up in session and metaphorically tap me on the shoulder to let me know they’re there). I relay impressions, feelings, and spoken messages from them to you, and help you build up a connection with them until you can communicate with them directly, or until they heal and integrate in you.
Your own inner children are waiting for you, their grown-up, to be there for them, and with them. Are you ready to meet them?
If you have a good sense of your own intuition, you can use it to tune in and chat with your inner child parts. If you don’t, you might consider cultivating your intuition as a handy shortcut for doing this work more quickly and effectively.
3. Communicate with them
Communicating with your inner child is a two-way process. Transmit AND receive. It’s not necessarily 50:50 either – they might have a lot to say, and only need you to listen and acknowledge what they’re saying!
Remember that you’re communicating with child parts here. Adjust your language to meet their likely capabilities. Adjust your complexity of thought and concept to their likely level of comprehension. Be aware of your tone and scan your thoughts for underlying messages, assumptions and implications, too. (Yes, this is a lot, especially when it’s unfamiliar terrritory… take your time with it – you’re learning on the job, as most parents do.
If your communication skills are in general need of some improvement, go watch some videos, read some books, listen to some podcasts, or go on a course in communication skills. Both Faber & Mazlish’s How To Talk So Kids Will Listen – and How To Listen So Kids Will Talk and Michaeleen Doucleff’s Hunt Gather Parent have useful tips on two-way communications with kids.
This will help every day AND in healing your inner child.
If you have critical parent scripts going on, or learned to invalidate yourself, your inner child will be cautious about interacting with you.
While these ways of talking to one another – and internalised self-talk – might be part and parcel of your family culture, they’re not healthy.
Watch out for how you talk to yourself, and what about:
- Does your inner voice sound like your parents?
- An overbearing teacher?
- Your over-competitive older sibling?
When you interact with your inner child parts, pay attention to the qualities you’re showing them. Are you showing patience? Kindness? Acceptance? Firmness without being harsh?
Very often, it’s hard for us as adults to embody the qualities we were denied as children.
As you heal your inner child parts, you may find that previously inaccessible or underdeveloped qualities in yourself such as patience, compassion, and repressed playfulness come more spontaneously and easily to the fore. This healing process helps us help ourselves and makes us better adults for children and other adults to be with.
4. Build trust with them
When you’ve ignored your inner kids for, say, decades, they might be understandably wary of you! They might try to avoid you. They might throw resistance, avoidance, and distraction at you to throw you off their trail – because they’re trying to protect you from pain.
Believe it or not (i.e. believe it now, or come round to understanding the truth of this later ;-) ) your inner child parts are there because they – or other parts of you – have been trying to protect you from your experience. They’re your protection mechanisms. Coping strategies. Defence mechanisms.
Self-protection comes from a place of love and care for oneself. When self-protection goes on too long, and is no longer appropriate, we recognise and label these behaviours, when we become aware of them, as self-sabotage.
Self-sabotage is simply self-protection gone on too long.
Think of wearing full-on winter gear in a heatwave – it’s useful in the right conditions, but not useful, in fact likely to make you feel hot, sweaty, and get weird reactions from other people, in inappropriate conditions.
Self-sabotage is rooted in the same love and care as self-protection. When we based our communications with self-sabotaging/protecting parts of ourselves on a mutual understanding of the love and care behind them, our communications, and hence our healing our inner child self-protecting parts, go much more smoothly.
When you show your inner child parts what trust looks like, feels like, and sounds like, they learn from your adult example. You can build healthy relationships with your inner child parts – even the seemingly self-sabotaging ones.
In fact, you can reprogram your protective and defensive inner child parts to work for you as an adult, using the same skills in ways that are constructive, not sabotaging. I help clients turn their self-sabotage around into self-creative inner parts through using this exact process.
5. Find out what they need
From a curious, patient standpoint of genuine interest, ask your inner children what they need. Use whichever communication method works.
Invite. Observe. Listen.
A useful question to trick yourself into bypassing your mental security system is:
If I already knew what my inner child felt, needed or wanted, what would it be?
Some inner children don’t know what they need because they never received it or had a name for it. Validation is one of those experiences that regularly gets missed out on – particularly for atypically brained kids.
Validation is when an adult tells a child that their experience is valid. Yes, that’s a flower. Yes, you’re angry. Yes, your skirt is really itchy. The adult confirms and validates the child’s experiences.
When you’re highly sensitive, validation doesn’t always happen. When you’re gifted, that doesn’t always happen. When you’re neurodivergent, that doesn’t happen – because the adults don’t ‘get’ your experience, they don’t experience it or recognise it, and cannot validate it for you.
The effects of recurrent, frequent non-validation – the absence of validation – include a strange yet persistent sense that something about you is wrong. Uncertainty about your own experience being ok. A lack of self-trust. Not knowing who or why you are.
Non-validation may affect your communication: you hesitate to speak up because you get used to people not providing validation, you pepper your words with qualifiers and diminishers, or you chatter on and on because you’re so used to being unheard that you fill the space in attempts to be heard – and all of this goes on without the language to explain validation, non-validation, and the feelings of neglect it induces in a child.
When you find out what your inner children feel, want and need – whether by yourself or with support from someone like myself – you then have the know-how to help them heal, to stop them interfering with your adult life by providing them with what they need and are still trying get in unhelpful ways.
6. Provide them with what they need
This is where reparenting your inner child gets fun (in case it wasn’t already).
New thoughts, understanding, presence, compassionate witnessing of their experience, validation, acknowledgement… Some inner kids want to play, to cuddle, to have and do nice things, to feel protected, to feel seen.
Speaking personally for a moment, I’ve bought my own inner kids toys, taken them to the beach, wrapped them in fluffy blankets, made them hot chocolate, given them favourite foods, allowed them to wriggle, stretch and dance, done colouring-in time, and them found other people to hang out and have positive experiences with.
I’ve offered them cuddles, understanding, reassurance, time, empathy, snuggles with me, their reliable grown-up.
I’ve come to know the sensations that tell me an inner child is present, waiting to communicate, and wanting to get what they need to heal, integrate, and allow me as a whole to grow.
Some inner parts may not feel like children, but demons.
In the same way that computer daemons are background processes, you can think of your inner demons as background processes in you that are – or have been – useful, but which occasionally pop up and make your current activities spin out of whack.
If you experience your inner parts more in this darker way, and less as children, you might like Tsultrim Allione’s approach helpful, in her book Feeding Your Demons. Especially if you have a dark sense of humour and/or movie taste!
Regardless of how they show up to you, what ages they are, what they need from you, what they want to give you, and how you enter into conversation with them:
Your inner children are waiting for you, their grown-up, to be there for them, and with them.
7. Rinse and repeat
Just like it takes a child a couple of decades to grow up, reparenting yourself can take a while. Fortunately, it’s a self-enhancing process.
Like most things, the more you do it, the quicker, better and more effectively you do it. Lucky you: you have 24 hrs a day, 365 days a year to practice ;-)
Reparenting your inner child is an ongoing process.
Every day, you can ask yourself questions like:
- How can I look after myself well today?
- What do I need today?
- How can I help others today?
Find the questions that most resonate and work for you.
As you get better at parenting yourself, you’ll get better at parenting your kids. As you get better at parenting your kids, you get better at parenting yourself and your inner child (when you remember to!).
I can’t write about how to reparent your inner child without discussing grief.
Grief is always part and parcel of coming to terms with painful experiences, including loss.
How things were and weren’t: the painful experiences you had that you wished you hadn’t had to go through, what you missed out on that would’ve been great.
How things are and aren’t: the struggles you’re having now, the experiences you’re missing out on right now, the habits you have that you’d rather not have, the lack of habits you’d like to have that you haven’t yet cultivated.
How things will and won’t be: the options you have now, the options you don’t have ahead of you, the dreams you have to let go of, the opportunities you will or won’t have in front of you.
Some people bypass (i.e. ignore and pretend it doesn’t exist) this stage by enthusiastically and prematurely declaring “no regrets” before taking the time to check in with themselves about whether or not there are, in fact, regrets.
- Do you allow yourself to know your regrets?
- Have you processed everything enough that you’ve properly arrived at the point of no regrets?
When you don’t allow yourself time to reflect on it, consider it, and feel your emotional responses to your experiences so far, you can’t know whether you regret it or not, whether you’ve grieved it or not.
You can only fully grieve something when you know what it is you’re grieving. When grief comes, take it as a sign of how much love and care there is for yourself, in you. You are valuable. You are loved. You are love-able.
You will hit rough patches. You will resent the process and having-to-do the process. You will feel a lot of pain as the pain that your inner child parts squirrelled away to protect you comes out to be known, acknowledged and allowed to pass.
These are all signs that your emotions are running more freely, which means you’re a safe enough, secure enough adult to safely contain and hold those emotions for yourself – and for your inner child parts. Well done!
How do you know when you’re healed?
This is going to be one of those annoying “how about you answer the question yourself?” kinds of answers.
You decide for yourself what healed means for you.
Decisions are often recognised, not made. So watch out for signs, thoughts, and self-observed behaviours where you recognise change in yourself. Triggers that don’t tap into you any longer. Thoughts that you can easily brush away these days. Motivation and engagement where previously it was a real struggle to bring yourself to do things.
- What do you imagine healing to look like? Feel like? Sound like?
- How would you experience your world differently? How would you experience yourself differently?
Be aware of any judgements, criticisms, frustrations and other ooglie booglies that crop up when you do this. Take them as data. Stick them through the process ;-)
Sometimes, we just *know* that we’re better, even if we can’t explain it yet in words. Self-trust is one of the things you develop through the process of reparenting your inner child and healing your inner child trauma.
You’ll know it when you’re there – and come and tell me about it, I love hearing your stories!
That’s cool. You’ve just read a decent amount (even if you skipped to the how-to ;-) ) and your mind will tick over on this. Your inner kids are always listening, by the way ;-) They’ll let you know.
2. Do It Yourself
Follow the tips in this article. That’s… kinda why I wrote it ;-)
Read the books.
Look up the key topics.
Remember, though: humans evolved as social beings. We can survive on our own. But we thrive in community. Keep yourself open to the possibility that you might like to do some of this processing with other humans.
3. Get support
Friends, family, personal growth buddies, business mastermind partners, strangers on the internet – there are loads of options for getting support. Watch out, though, for a cheeky/sneaky inner child part (written with love, by the way) telling you that no one can support you. Have you tested all of the other 7 billion humans on this planet yet? ;-)
Online groups that you find on Facebook, Reddit subs, specialist forums for inner child healing can all be enormously helpful as sources of peer support, and places where you can offer support to people too. Instagram has lots of therapists, inner child work people, and helpful accounts to follow for regular sprinkles of reminders, validation, shared experience, and encouragement. [You’ll find me there, too].
As well as writing on these topics, I offer 1:1 and group support to people at various stages and phases of their healing journey. Take a look at what I offer if you resonate with my approach.
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The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this webpage are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this webpage. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this webpage. Sue Mahony PhD disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this webpage.
Sue Mahony PhD is gifted, autistic, and ADHD. She provides 1:1 specialist support for brains similar to her own, neurodiversity training, mentoring & coaching for organisations, and a wealth of articles on this website.
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