Working with the Inner Child

5 Steps for Working with the Inner Child

Have you heard about working with the inner child? If not, you may be wondering what that entails. Working with the inner child requires you to go back to the little child inside you to create a safe environment as many of us struggle to feel safe emotionally and physically. If you want to read more about what an inner child is, read my post What is Inner Child Work.

As a psychotherapist, I do a lot of inner child therapy and it is very healing. This post will help you gain an understanding of how working with the inner child can help you heal because you deserve to be happy.

For many of us, we had difficult times throughout our childhood and adolescence. When that happens, your inner child is left without getting his or her emotional or physical needs met. It’s just like that little scar you might have on your leg that wasn’t properly taken care of, thus the formation of the scar. We get “scars” from times when our needs weren’t met in a healthy way.

Safe Environment When Working with the Inner Child

If we don’t feel safe as a child, that will follow us throughout our adulthood. When we don’t feel safe as an adult, we create experiences to further the belief, “I am not safe.” This causes anxiety and depression.

Connecting to your inner child is important because he or she established unhealthy behaviors when your needs weren’t met. As I mentioned, those unhealthy behaviors follow you into adulthood. Healing your inner child can help you with the unhealthy behaviors you have as an adult.

As a psychotherapist, I often have patients beating themselves up for their “bad behavior.” Most of the time, they have no clue why they have those behaviors. In order to do that, we have to look back at what need the behavior meets.

If we can establish the benefit, even if it’s not a positive benefit, we can usually discover where in childhood the behavior was created. This is the reason that working with the inner child is so important. We have to find a way to feel safe when we didn’t have a safe environment as a child.

Identifying Unhealthy Behaviors as an Adult When Working with the Inner Child

So, are you thinking, if there’s no positive benefit for a behavior, then why would you do it? Aren’t we consciously trying to do things that will benefit us in some positive way? Yes, but we are often meeting a need that benefits us in the moment, but can sabotage us down the road.

For example, you may be the one to jump when somebody needs help. This can be a “two-for-one” positive benefit. You met the person’s need and you felt pride in having been able to help. Two weeks later, that same person needs you again and it continues week after week.

The meeting of those needs has now turned into codependency. When that happens, you often neglect yourself to help others. To read my post on Codependency and the Drama Triangle, click here.

That is just one example of how meeting our needs in the moment can cause us to crash down the road. Neglecting yourself results in a subconscious feeling that doesn’t allow you to feel safe because your needs are not being met.

Now, how does this have anything to do with the importance of your inner child? My guess is that you have followed that same pattern of neglecting yourself to help others since you were a child. People have probably applauded you for your selfless nature.

Damage from Childhood Shows Up in Adulthood

Society rewards selfless people without a thought to what that might cost the person. To read more about these codependent behaviors of rescuing, click here to read my post about the rescuer role in the Drama Triangle.

What might have caused those behaviors? As a child, you may have lacked positive attention. From that, you may have learned that you got positive attention when you helped others. You were simply getting an emotional need met in order to feel safe emotionally.

Fast-forward to your current adult life. You are now an adult who is probably exhausted on a daily basis and neglecting yourself due to always helping others. Your brain is wired from childhood to feel good from that positive attention.

More than likely, you have not learned how to get healthy attention. That’s normal. There are very few children who are actually taught that. However, if you can bring the needs connected to your behaviors into your conscious mind, you can then begin working with the inner child to find healing.

Are you wondering how you would even begin to do that? I have my patients think about what age the behavior reminds them of. An example of this is always needing to have the last word, facial response or something like a little slip of the middle finger.

To me, that behavior seems like that of a six or seven-year-old. Think about it. If one child says something hurtful to another child at that age, the child receiving the hurtful comment might stick his or her tongue out or say, “nana nana boo boo” as he or she walks away hurt.

Again, this is how a child collects experiences in which he or she does not feel safe emotionally. Once you can identify the age of the behavior, you begin working with the inner child.

Questions to Ask Yourself While Working with the Inner Child:

  1. What was going on in my home at that age? (Was there a change in your family? What events were taking place, such as a move, parent changing jobs, a change in schools, parents separating, a new sibling?)
  2. Do you have any significant memories from that age and what are those memories?
  3. Have you heard stories about yourself at that age? If so, what were those stories?
  4. Can you remember how you were treated at that age?
  5. Was that age difficult or easy for you?

Asking these types of questions are important because it allows you to explore the possible reasons for your adult behaviors. You can gain an understanding of the emotional or physical need that was not met.

With that information, you can start processing ways to get that need met as an adult, but in a healthy manner. Doing so allows you to create a safe environment that you needed, but didn’t get when you were a child.

Shaming Your Inner Child

One of the important things to keep in mind when working with the inner child is to NEVER shame yourself for the behaviors and feelings you had as a child or teen. In my work as a psychotherapist, I have seen adults shaming themselves for many things they did as a child or teen.

An example of that is an adult woman shaming herself for having been “promiscuous” as a teen after looking at adult attention-seeking behaviors.

Please keep in mind that I have said that these behaviors in adults usually come from an unmet physical or emotional need due to not having a safe environment emotionally or physically. Children and teens will often do anything in order to get those vital needs met. This is done because nobody taught them healthy ways to do that.

To that, I always use a baby walking as an analogy. If a baby never saw others walk, how would a baby know he or she could stand up and walk? If that were the case, would you shame the child for not knowing how to walk.

I sure hope not, but if you would then you and I need to have a conversation. Now, think about this when you feel the slightest bit of shame for things you did as a child because you didn’t know better. Also, recognize this still applies for us as adults.

 If you were never taught something, how would you even know it was something you needed to learn, much less how to teach it to yourself? Once you are able to answer the questions above and connect the answers to how they affect you as an adult, you will be ready to start working with the inner child.

 There is no wrong way to do that! You can sit in meditation to see yourself as a child. You can just lovingly think back on that precious child that you were. You can also say kind, loving words to a picture of you as a child.

What Did You Need as a Child That You Didn’t Get?

Think about what you needed to hear as a child. For me, I needed to hear that I was perfect just the way I was. I needed somebody to tell me I was good enough for anything and everything. Unfortunately, I did not get either. So, instead I had to begin my own healing of working with the inner child.

Now, keep in mind that telling yourself and your inner child the positive things you needed to hear can be very difficult. It can also feel as though they are not true due to the negative self-talk that was created in your childhood. To learn about the Creation of Negative Self Talk, click here.

Changing Negative Self Talk with Your Inner Child

I struggled when I began trying to say positive things to myself. Believing them was pretty laughable to me as I’d had “messages” throughout my life telling me the exact opposite. Even though it was hard, I still did it.

My bathroom mirror became a sea of multi-colored Post-It notes. There was barely any space for me to even see myself in the mirror. I wrote tons of “I am” statements that I needed to hear as a child.

Reading those while brushing my teeth every morning and night slowly allowed me to believe that maybe those positive statements weren’t completely false. As time passed, that turned into me beginning to believe that there might be a few times here and there where those statements might even be a little true.

I spent several months looking at that multi-colored sea of Post-It notes and reading them to myself. Eventually, I even got to the point of being able to look at myself in the mirror and say, “You are amazing. You are a kind, beautiful person,” and everything else that I had written and read for so many months.

Positive Statements for Your Inner Child

Another way you can begin working with the inner child is by finding a picture of yourself as a child. That is something I did not discover for several years after beginning my healing work.

Working with the inner child probably seemed silly and “woo-woo” to me. So, if you’re thinking that, I get it! However, don’t let that stop you. So, let’s go back to the other way you can begin working with the inner child with your Post-It notes.

Find a picture of yourself as a child. Put that picture on your mirror. Get your Post-It notes and write positive statements about that child you see in the picture.

Examples of these Statements:

You are beautiful.

You are kind.

You are smart.

You are amazing.

You are perfect.

You are deserving of love.

Every time you brush your teeth, read these positive statements to the picture of you as a child. It’s perfectly ok if this is a struggle. Remember that I said it was a struggle for me to do this as I had heard such opposite messages about myself my entire life.

What helped me to be able to do this when I started working with the inner child was to think about my precious nieces who were little girls at the time. Any time a negative thought would creep in about myself or me as a little girl, I’d think of my nieces.

If I ever heard somebody say nasty, negative things about them, anger would flood my mind and body. After I contained my anger, I would then spend time with them telling them all the amazing things I saw in them.

So, I used my love for my nieces to show myself that I too was just a child needing exactly what I tried to give them. This allowed me to start telling my own inner child all of the same amazing things I told my nieces.

Healing Your Inner Child

Working with the inner child is kind of like a re-do for your childhood. Now, it will never completely undo the pain you suffered, but it sure can make a huge difference. I know it did for me and I’ve seen it do the same for my patients.

Once you have begun this work and you are ready to take it one step further, I have another tip for you:  Put a picture of yourself as a child on your phone as your screensaver or wallpaper. Think about how often you will look at that child on a daily basis! Every time you see the picture, think or say something to that child in the picture that he or she needed to hear or know.

Doing that will allow you to keep your precious, little inner child with you all day long. It will further allow you to reach out to your inner child to allow him or her to feel safe. Your inner child deserved to be happy, but that probably didn’t happen.

Heal Your Inner Child Because You Deserve to be Happy

So, as an adult you can begin learning that you deserve to be happy also. You just have to learn how to create a safe environment. It’s important for you to find ways to feel safe as you begin doing this work.

As always, I recommend finding a licensed therapist to help guide you through the process of healing your inner child. It is very tough work and will be easier to do with a professional. I recommend finding somebody well-versed in inner child therapy!

I would love to read your thoughts on your inner child journey and ways you learned you deserve to be happy. Please comment on this post any thoughts, questions or your own inner child experiences.


This site is only intended for people who are truly willing to look at themselves with an open mind and have the ability to truly be vulnerable with themselves and others. Please understand that this site is in NO WAY THERAPEUTIC ADVICE. However, this site can be very beneficial in learning the causes of your Not Good Enough Stuff. This site is not intended to provide or replace medical or psychiatric treatment. Mary Beth HIGHLY RECOMMENDS finding a licensed therapist to help you process the information from this site and all that you learn about yourself. Visit Psychology Today to find a licensed therapist in your area.

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