Tracey Richards was tired and jaded. The 44-year-old had been married for 16 years, and looking after her three boys, husband, elderly parents and the home full-time was starting to take its toll on her health.
‘I’d got to a stage where I was exhausted all the time and everything was too much trouble for me,’ says Tracey. ‘I had no social life and I’d just fall asleep on the sofa every night with the television on.
‘I knew I’d lost my spark, but I put it down to getting older and having more responsibility. I love my family, but I couldn’t help thinking my life was one long round of laundry, shopping, cooking, driving people around and cleaning.’
But one night, while chatting to her cousin Janice, reminiscing about the plays they used to put on as kids and how they loved performing, she had a light-bulb moment.
‘We started wondering where those happy children had gone,’ says Tracey. ‘We laughed about how we’d write a really silly script and then act
it out for anyone who’d come and watch. Just remembering those plays seemed to revive me. They were still on my mind a few days later when I saw a poster for an amateur dramatics group that was starting up.’
Tracey joined the group and over the past two years, she has had major roles in three productions. She also did a scriptwriting course and is now writing her own screenplay.
‘It’s amazing,’ she laughs. ‘I have so much energy now! I still do all the same chores as before and still have the same challenges, but I feel different. I’ve got my old get-up-and-go [self] back and it’s wonderful. Life was passing me by before.’
Talane Miedaner, author of Coach Yourself to Success, says that when we rediscover what made us happy as children, we reconnect with our core values, which in Tracey’s case were entertaining and performing.
‘We’re always being told to grow up, but being childlike has a playful, open and loving quality,’ says Talane. ‘Children have a natural eagerness to learn and explore. They’re big-hearted and they’re excited about everything.
‘We lose that playfulness as we grow older and more serious. We get busy with work and family responsibilities, which can be overwhelming for most people.
‘Yet what children do instinctively energises them, and for us adults, the antidote to exhaustion is child’s play. If we can tap into our playful side by reliving what made us happy as kids, it will nurture and energise us, and leave us radiant, smiling and glowing with happiness. Who wouldn’t want to feel like that?’
So, with childhood a dim and distant memory, how do we remember what used to give us joy? Talane suggests we do exactly as Tracey did, albeit inadvertently, and talk to relatives. ‘If you can’t remember your childhood pleasures, ask your parents or other older relatives, or chat to an older sibling,’ she says. ‘They’re bound to remember how you drove them crazy playing with your dolls or dressing up in your mum’s high heels.
The life coach also advises watching videos of you as a child or going through an old photograph album. ‘Look for detail – you may be playing with friends, but are you on a bicycle or a scooter, and are you out on a beach or are you in a city?
‘Sometimes, what you loved doing can seem insignificant. It might have been spinning around on a chair or stool. Don’t write it off just because it doesn’t translate obviously into an adult pastime. That spinning around could lead you to ballroom dancing – it might have been perfect practice for the waltz!
‘I once had a client who used to play follow the cat when she was a girl. She would spend hours tracing the footsteps of her cat and she went wherever her cat went.
‘When we delved into this, we found her core value was to explore, and once she realised this, she was able to take trips to new places and get in touch with that side of her personality again.’
Karen Anne Hope Andrews, a clinical psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia in Dubai, concurs. ‘As adults, we’ve forgotten how to play,’ she says. ‘We need to take time each day to play in a healthy way, but the first thing we need to do is suspend self-judgement and self-criticism and give ourselves permission to be who we are. We have to switch off, or at least decide to ignore those loud, critical internal voices that are always telling us we look silly or we’re not good enough.
‘We should allow ourselves to be childlike every day and sing silly songs as loud as we can, rather than worrying if we can sing well. Run for the sake of running. Jump as high as we can. Watch a children’s movie or read a children’s book, or play with games or toys. Colouring is a fun, healthy activity for adults. The activity itself is far less important than the process of connecting with our inner child.’
Sometimes, the activity will translate into adulthood and it will be an obvious choice. The girl who loved playing basketball when she was 11 might well join a women’s team as she grows up. Or, a young baker might grow up to love decorating cupcakes or making desserts for dinner parties.
‘If you enjoyed swimming as a child, you probably still love it. These things don’t change,’ says Talane. ‘But rather than swimming laps in a pool, you may want to try a sophisticated version, like water ballet. If you loved your pet rabbits as a kid, there’s nothing to stop you from having rabbits again, or if you don’t want to own a pet, you could volunteer to help at an animal shelter.’
However, sometimes, when there isn’t an obvious switch from childhood to adulthood, we may need to look a little deeper for the underlying core value. ‘Someone who loved getting their hands dirty and playing in mud or wet sand as a child might grow up to enjoy pottery,’ Talane explains. ‘But if they enjoyed digging in a garden to make it look nice, they might have a core value of order and it could be tidiness that appeals to them.
‘If you were more into art and craft, gather your friends together and have a potluck supper and craft night once a month. You can sit and chat, quilt, sew, make a scrapbook, knit or organise your photo albums. If it’s a regular thing, you don’t have to phone people and get it organised. They just know it will happen.’
By reconnecting with our childhood joy, we’re nurturing ourselves on a much deeper level. The famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung labelled the inner child ‘divine child’, while others like to think of it as their true selves. Jung believed that the child dwells within all of us throughout our lives and it is this part that pushes us to reach our true potential.
For anyone interested in looking after their inner child, Karen suggests this process:
‘Close your eyes, take deep breaths and ask yourself how old your inner child is. You may get an image, a thought or feeling – whatever comes up is probably the right answer.
‘Now find a photo of yourself at that age and carry it around with you. Look at it frequently. If you don’t have a photo, carry some kind of symbol that speaks to you of yourself at that age. It could be a stone, a shell, a cloth or a figurine. This is an easy way to bring our awareness to our inner child and we’ll start to notice how we talk to her.
‘Exploring this part of ourselves may heal stuck places in our psyche that we may not have previously been aware of. We may start to like ourselves better. We may find we’re more present in our relationships, we communicate with others better and we’re more at peace with ourselves.
‘In our competitive and driven world, it’s easy to push ourselves too hard, but when we connect with our inner child, we learn to take time out to be rather than to do, and this helps us express our needs, even to ourselves.’