Imagine a three-year-old (let’s say his name is Joe) playing with a playmate (perhaps Mike). Joe and Mike are playing contentedly with toy trucks in the sand when Mike decides he likes Joe’s toy better and takes it from him. What is Joe’s reaction? Perhaps he tries to take it back and the two argue over the toy. Mike is bigger so he wins the squabble, whereupon Joe runs to his mother crying, wanting her to comfort him and fix the problem.
Now imagine Joe with his newborn baby sister. He is anxious to meet her when she first arrives, wants to hold her and give her kisses and is constantly petting her head. His parents tell him to be gentle, but he just wants to love her with all of the energy his little body holds. These two examples illustrate the difference between being childish and childlike.
Childish attributes include self-centeredness, whining, pouting, throwing tantrums, and wanting one’s way. Childlike attributes include innocence, compassion, and a sense of wonder about the world. Both of these sets of attributes come naturally to children so when working with clients, the key is to focus on the childlike attributes.
Cultivating the inner child is critical for clients who have suffered traumatic experiences in their childhood to begin the healing process.