Meet Your Inner Child

Many therapists and self-help experts say you should get in touch with your inner child and they’re mostly right, but they underestimate the risks. Sure, you’ll get a chance to see the world through fresh eyes and nurture the most innocent, vulnerable side of yourself. But what if you and your inner child don’t hit it off? What if they’re too needy, too clingy—or even worse, what if they act like they’re better than you? I counsel a cautious approach.

Access your inner child by meditating on an old photograph of yourself, or eating a food you enjoyed as a kid, or crawling across wet sand while blasting Syd Barrett’s 1970 psych-folk debut, The Madcap Laughs.

When you first encounter your inner child, look them directly in the eye. No matter what, do not blink or crack a smile, which will be difficult because children are scary-good at staring contests. This initial interaction will determine who is the “alpha” in the relationship. If you lose, well, I hope you like giving horsey rides.

It’s important to develop a good rapport with your inner child, but definitely don’t kiss their ass or anything. Remember: You are the grown-up here.

Use your adult knowledge and resources to pinpoint their trauma and help them heal from past wounds. For example, if your inner child was bullied at the bus stop every day, go on Facebook and show them that Mr. Purple-Nurples is now a twice-divorced MAGA-hat guy with a septic-pumping business teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. That girl who called you fat in front of the entire fourth grade? She’s hawking “body sculpting” treatments on Instagram. Let your inner child feast on the buffet of schadenfreude served up daily on social media.

You can also impress an inner child with your adult buying power. Stride right up to the most expensive gumball machine in the grocery store—the one that takes three quarters!—and keep feeding it until you get the little plastic parachute guy you always wanted. Or go on eBay, buy up all the POGs and make it rain on the little nipper. Take that, mom!

Best-case scenario, you and the kid develop a tight relationship and learn to depend on each other for emotional support and validation. More likely, though, you’ll choose to “keep it light” in the manner of two acquaintances who share a horrible secret from the past but keep running into each other. You’ll wave sheepishly from across the room and flash them a thin-lipped smile as if to say, “Oh, hey there, little buddy. It’s you again.”