All parents are flawed. We all fall short of being the parents our child needs and wants us to be. Our parents weren’t perfect either. As a result, many of us carry around childhood wounds that weigh us down and hold us back from our full potential. Thankfully, there is an inner child in all of us, right now, that we can send unconditional compassion, nurturing, and love to daily.
Reparenting is a concept used in psychotherapy that empowers you to overcome the pain from childhood without needing validation or acceptance from those who hurt you. You take on the active role as caregiver and nurturer for your past self, and receive the empathy and connection you needed, but didn’t get from your caregivers.
This concept has been aptly described by psychotherapist Dr Nicole LePera: ‘If we had parents without boundaries, who had emotional immaturity or their own unresolved trauma, we may need reparenting because some core needs have gone unmet.’
We can all benefit from comforting the hidden pain inside of us. Our inner child is the foundation for our relationships with others and the place from which we make automatic decisions about love, trust, and safety.
At this point, you might be thinking, ‘How is this going to help improve my relationship with my child?’
The answer is simple but often overlooked. When we take care of ourselves and the pain we carry around, it makes it easier to connect and empathise with our children. When we nurture our younger self, it allows us to remember what it is like to be a child. This reflection creates an opportunity to see our child as someone who needs compassion in their darkest moments instead of punishment. Also, when we heal ourselves, we are more open to bids for connection from our children. We can view tearful outbursts with a fresh dose of empathy and observation instead of anger.
Here’s one reparenting activity you can try: Find a baby picture or younger picture of yourself. Put the picture somewhere you will see it frequently. For example, on your nightstand. You could also make it your cell phone background for added exposure.
Every time you see the photo acknowledge the younger you with empathy. In your mind, send your inner child a loving message. For example: ‘I am here to give you love. I accept you just the way you are.’ You could also say it out loud for more impact (if nobody is around). You could go a step further and imagine holding or hugging younger you with the same loving warmth you give to your children now.
Lastly, observe how the week plays out with your children and share your experience with someone you trust. You could also keep notes in a journal.
I hope that this enrichment activity will increase empathy for your child this week. As you deal with meltdowns and disagreements with understanding instead of resentment, you will be modelling for your child how to cope with difficult moments.
We all have childhood wounds, some worse than others. But as adults, we have the responsibility of healing ourselves. This activity is one creative step towards treating those childhood emotional injuries with care.
Go deeper: get creative and send love and acceptance to yourself at whatever age you need. If there was a disturbing or traumatic event in your past, try to find a picture of yourself at that age and send yourself the compassion you needed back then.
It could be teenage you, young adult you, first break-up you, or elementary school you. But identify your hurt-self and comfort younger you!
Image credit: Freepik
Beth Tyson is a psychotherapist, trauma-responsive coach, author, speaker and advocate for families coping with trauma and loss. Her children’s book, A Grandfamily for Sullivan, is a tender-hearted story about an orphaned koala.