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“Little Child Within”

Chapter 9: “Little Child Within”

Tools for Personal Growth

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


Who is the “Little Child Within?”

The “Little Child Within” is the:

  • Little child you were who desired to be nurtured, cared for, and loved. This child still resides within you as an adult.
  • Free spirit, pixie, and elf you have tamed and controlled, yet who resides within you.
  • Emotional and sensitive you whom you have channeled, controlled, and silenced and who is still living within you.
  • Creative, imaginative, and artistic you who has been molded, structured, and organized; who still resides in you and is needing to be set free.
  • Hurt, pained, neglected, frustrated, abused, and ignored you whom you have masked, hidden from view, and denied the existence of. This child is always just below the surface, causing you to be anxious, worried, and fearful of mistreatment.
  • Fun loving, happy, frivolous, joyful, humorous you when you were young and unsophisticated; that person you have replaced with a sophisticated, mature, serious, task-oriented demeanor.
  • Childhood you have lost or forgotten; yet it still resides in you, dwelling in your subconscious.
  • Person who knows how to have fun and play for play's sake; who can help you prevent burnout and manage the stress in your life.
  • Person you could be as an adult if you lightened up, let go of your seriousness, overcame your fears, and accepted flexibility and change in your life.
  • Person within you who needs healing, support, and reinforcement through a variety of Tools for Coping activities. Through this you can be given new life, health, and a chance for personal growth.

How did the “Little Child Within” get there?

The Little Child Within:

  • Resides in every adult person.
  • Lives in every adult because it is captured in the brain's memory bank.
  • Exists in the memory or subconscious because each one of us has poignant memories of our past that shape our present motivation and future drive.
  • Exists because when we adopted specific behavior characteristics and behavior scripts to cope in our dysfunctional environment we masked, covered up, or forgot the real little child we had been.
  • Comes back to many of us in our dreams or daydreams. We can clearly picture what the little child looks like and how the child is feeling and acting.
  • Is the person we controlled, repressed, and hid in order to survive in the world of stress. Since it was repressed we held onto it in our subconscious.
  • Is the link we have to our spiritual being because it is in the spirit realm rather than in the realm of conscious behavior.
  • Is a component of our current value and belief system; however, we are unaware of its influence on our decisions.
  • Exists because when we were overcome by guilt as children, we climbed inside of ourselves to avoid the feelings of not being “good enough.”
  • Exists because when we were little our family rules required that we present an image of a happy, healthy family, even if we weren't. So we repressed our little child to appear more responsible, serious, and achievement-oriented.

What is the unfinished business of the Little Child Within?

From growing up in a dysfunctional family, emotional maturity was stunted. This failure to mature left the Little Child Within with unfinished because we:

  • Grew up too fast.
  • Became small adults; little moms and dads
  • Were either over-responsible or overachievers.
  • Were emotionally vulnerable.
  • Were not given a chance to grow and mature in a normal sequence of events.
  • Put on a public mask or image to stifle our child-like needs.
  • Repressed joy, vision, and feelings.
  • Still have a “child within” waiting to grow up and take its proper place. 


How does the Little Child Within come into being?

The Little Child Within comes into being by:
  • A denial of true feelings.
  • A denial of the person we are.
  • Trying hard to live up to others' expectations.
  • Holding back our child-like responses, while we provide adult-like responses to stress.
  • The fear of being found out about how we really feel.
  • Insecurity in the midst of chaos, confusion, or the vacuum of repressed feelings.
  • A sense of obligation to always “look good” and “be good.”
  • Inexperience at being loved for who you are rather than for what you do.
  • Not being given the role model of how to enjoy life and to have fun.
  • Always having to be serious about life.
  • A lack of encouragement to broaden our scope of vision about the potentials in life.
  • The stress of staying vigilantly in the here and now so that we stay in control and “the walls didn't come tumbling down” around us.
  • Never being given or taking the freedom to play and act childish.
  • Not being given role models of how to take pleasure out of the little things in life.
  • A compulsive drive to fulfill our role in our family.
  • Not recognizing that we can make choices in our lives to make it what we want it to be.
  • Continuing even now to follow our compulsive role(s) rather than choosing to change and be free from the restraints this compulsion creates for us.
  • Silencing our “little child within” and guarding ourselves, retreating behind masked barriers.
  • Feeling that it is not safe to grow up, to accept love, or to share feelings.
  • Learning to spend some time each day in pleasure and play.


What are the signs of activity of the “Little Child Within?”

We know our “Little Child Within” is active when we:
  • Lose ourselves in frolic and fun.
  • Cry at a sentimental movie or TV show.
  • Over-indulge our own children.
  • Enjoy playing with children's toys.
  • Love visiting Walt Disney World or other theme parks designed for children.
  • Seek out adult toys to play with.
  • Cry or grieve as adults for the losses we experienced in our past.
  • Still seek to please the senior members of our families of origin and our extended families.
  • Get sentimental looking at old photo albums, home movies, or scrap books about our childhood.
  • Experience the same intensity of feeling we had as children as we role play or act out experiences from our past.

What messages did the “Little Child Within” need to hear, but which went unsaid?

When the “Little Child Within” climbed inside you it was probably hoping to hear:

  • I love you, I care about you, and I accept you just the way you are.
  • I am so proud of you and all that you are.
  • I am so happy you are my child.
  • You are so beautiful and attractive.
  • You are so bright and talented.
  • You are so artistic and creative.
  • You are such a good worker.
  • I am sorry I hurt you.
  • I am sorry I neglected you.
  • I am sorry I forgot you.
  • I am sorry I ignored you.
  • I am sorry I took you for granted.
  • I am sorry I made you grow up so fast.
  • I am sorry I had to rely on you so much.
  • You can trust me to take care of you.
  • You can trust me to be there for you.
  • You can trust me to protect you from any hurt or pain.
  • I will get help for myself and for the family.
  • We will work at getting healthy together.
  • We will have healthy fun and play together.


What are the negative consequences of suppressing the “Little Child Within?”

When as adults we choose to suppress the memory, needs, and desires of the “Little Child Within” we run the risk of:

  • Never learning how to feel normally.
  • Never learning how to play and have fun.
  • Never learning how to relax and manage stress.
  • Never learning how to appreciate life. We would rather work at living.
  • Taking ourselves too seriously.
  • Feeling guilty over not being “good enough” driving ourselves to work harder to be “good enough”
  • Becoming workaholics.
  • Not enjoying our family life with our children.
  • Being suspicious of people who enjoy life, have fun, and know how to play.
  • Social isolation, afraid to get involved with other people for fear we will be found out to be inadequate, not normal, or a misfit.

What nurturing messages you can give your “Little Child Within?”

You can tell your “Little Child Within” that it is OK to:

  • Have the freedom to make choices for itself.
  • Be "healthy selfish" and do the things you want to do which you usually refuse to do since you want to do for others.
  • Take the time to do the things you want to do.
  • Associate only with the people you want to associate with.
  • Accept some people and to reject others.
  • Give and accept love from others.
  • Allow someone else to care for you.
  • Enjoy the fruits of your labor with no guilt feelings.
  • Take time to play and have fun each day.
  • Not to be so serious, intense, and inflexible about life.
  • Set limits on how you are going to relate to others.
  • Not always serve others.
  • Accept others serving you.
  • Be in charge of your life and not let others dictate to you.
  • Be honest with others about your thoughts and feelings.
  • Take risks and to suffer the positive or negative consequences of such risks.
  • Make mistakes, laugh at them, and carry on.
  • Let your imagination and creativity be set free and to soar with the eagles.
  • Cry, hurt, and to be in pain as long as you share your feelings; do not repress or suppress them.
  • Be angry, to express your anger, and to bring your anger to some resolution.
  • Make decisions for yourself.
  • Be a problem solver and come up with solutions with which everyone may not agree.
  • Feel happiness, joy, excitement, pleasure, and ecstacy.
  • Feel down, blue, sad, anxious, upset, and worried, as long as you share your feelings.
  • Love and be loved by someone whom you cherish.
  • Be your “Little Child Within” and to let it grow up, accept love, share feelings, and enjoy pleasure and play.
What are some steps can help take care of the “Little Child Within?”


Step 1:  In order to identify your “Little Child Within” get into a relaxed state and close your eyes. Spend thirty minutes picturing yourself as a child between three and eight years of age.
  1. See yourself as this little child and watch yourself interacting with members of your family of origin. Look at how you react to your family members as a little child.
  2. Watch yourself with your playmates in the neighborhood or at school. Notice how you get along with your friends and playmates. Notice the fun you have at play and what type of play activities you enjoyed.
  3. Watch yourself in the classroom and notice how you get along with your teacher and how you react to the school environment.
  4. Finally, picture yourself in a family setting. Are you happy, frivolous, joyful, energetic, excited, and enjoying life? Are you serious, solemn, down, sad, unhappy, scared, disappointed, being miserable with life?
  5. If you see only an unhappy, serious little child, try to remember your last happy experience as a child. This last remembrance of you as a happy child is the “Little Child Within” who climbed inside of you to cope with stress.

Step 2:  Now that you have identified your “Little Child Within” answer the following questions in your journal:

  • How would you describe your Little Child Within?
  • When did your Little Child Within go inside?
  • What happened for your little child to climb inside of you?
  • How do you know when your Little Child Within is active in you?
  • What messages does your Little Child Within still need to hear?
  • How willing are you to give these messages to your Little Child Within?  One way to do this is to develop self-affirmation statements that will nurture your Little Child and lead to self-healing.
  • What irrational beliefs did your Little Child Within have about life?How willing are you to deal with these irrational beliefs and replace them with realistic truths? It is important to deal with these now so your Little Child Within can come out and finally enjoy life.
  • What are some of the negative consequences of suppressing your Little Child Within?
  • How open are you to enjoying the little things in life?
  • What part does fun play in your life?


Step 3:  You are now ready to make a plan of action to nurture your Little Child Within. Develop a plan of action using the tools found in The Tools for Personal Growth Book Chapters:  Handling Irrational Beliefs, Self-affirmations, Handling Guilt, and Letting Go. Once your plan is completed, put it into action and take care of your Little Child Within.

Step 4:  The following three activities can help the action planning and nurturing of your Little Child Within:

Activity 1:   Learning How to Enjoy the Small Things in Life
Open yourself to experience joy at being alive by taking the following steps:

  • Step A:  Open your eyes to the beauty and majesty of nature about you, e.g., paint photographs or simply observe sunrises or sunsets, a body of water, listen for bird calls, try to distinguish the different sounds, plant a garden and watch it grow.
  • Step B:  Expand your sensory vocabulary. Try to experience life through all of your senses, use sight, sound, smell, and touch to explore and describe the experiences in your life.
  • Step C:  Explore the natural environment, e.g., take a walk on the beach, relish natures wonders, take a walk on a wooded trail, enjoy the moonlight, the stars, search out natures' magic.
  • Step D:  Begin to slow down and let go. Enjoy children, pets, the aroma of food. Listen to music, enroll in a fun class, enjoy the human side of those in your life, develop a sense of humor, a new hobby.
Activity 2:   Learning How to Feel and to Share Feelings
  • Step A:  Keep a journal in which you record your daily range of feelings.
  • Step B:  Identify in your journal one new feeling a day to increase your feelings vocabulary. The Tools for Communication in the Tools-for-Coping Series provides lists of feeling words to help you.
  • Step C:  Watch a sentimental movie and have a good cry, but pay attention to your feelings. Describe in your journal how you felt watching the movie and how you felt once you began to cry.
  • Step D:  Begin an activity to generate positive feelings each day. Explore the world or your life in general. Recognize one good thing about it daily. Come up with a positive feeling generated by this good thing, add it to your feelings vocabulary in your journal.
  • Step E:  Write a fantasy story in your journal describing you experiencing at least ten different positive feelings.
  • Step F:  Relax and visualize yourself experiencing a positive feeling. Enjoy that visualized feeling. Once you have mastered the visualized feeling, plan an activity to make that feeling real for you. Record the experience in your journal.

Activity 3:   Learning How to Play
The following tips can help you learn to play:
  1. Let go of any guilt feelings you might have about indulging yourself in play activity. Redefine the role of play in your life. Restructure your life activities, and include some play time.
  2. Define some acceptable play activities you would be willing to experiment with over the next year.
  3. Be spontaneous and let go of the need for rigidity in the ways you play. Let your child out and freewheel through your playtime.
  4. Don't stifle your child-like responses to a play activity. Loosen up and let go of the need to be mature.
  5. Don't worry about your public image, as long as what you are doing harms no one. Vent gut-level frolic responses to your play activity.
  6. Learn to be your own best friend.
  7. Frolic and have fun without the use of artificial stimulants (drugs, alcohol, etc.)
  8. Let your responsible adult mind set have a vacation. Practice looking at life with a child's perspective. Imagine how a child would view play. Let the sense of wonderment, excitement, imagination, make-believe, and creativity reign.
  9. Laughter is therapeutic and essential if playing is to be fun. Learn to let go of a good belly laugh.
  10. Playing requires the use of fantasy. Let your fantasy life emerge and grow. Use imagination and visual imagery to broaden the scope and expand the boundaries of your play.
  11. Take a risk and set up a playtime'' for your little child in a family-like situation where you can play outdoors with children, e.g., have a food fight, a water-sprinkling war, play Rover Red Rover, dodge ball, etc.
  12. Give yourself a child's party. Invite your friends to bring their own “child within” to a party in which you indulge in children's games, e.g., pin the tail on the donkey, musical chairs, bobbing for apples, hopscotch, jacks, etc.


Step 5:  After you have implemented your action plan using the Tools for Coping tools to nurture your “Little Child Within” and after you have tried the three activities in Step 4, your “Little Child'”should be more visible and active in your life.If you still find yourself suppressing the little child, return to Step 1 and begin again.