When it comes to reconnecting with one’s inner child, there tend to be two narratives: “grow the hell up and get on with life like the rest of us” or some deep-end manic pixie nightmare that encourages intelligent adults to quit their jobs to go dance in the rain because YOLO or something. Seriously?
At the heart of it, a more middle-ground truth exists: getting in touch with the way we were as kids can remind us of what’s important in life, and no cubicle or grown-up responsibility is more vital than that, but we’re adults now for good reason. We have obligations and bills to pay and a new generation of kids who need us to act like grown-ups for their sake, whether we’re their parents or just part of the society they’re absorbing as they go out into the world each day. We will never fully feel like kids again, no matter how carefree we are, and that’s as it should be.
Still, sometimes, when I visit my hometown at just the right point of the summer, the air smells so sweet and the sky is so blue that I could swear I was 7 years old again, running around in the yard without a care in the world. Sometimes this launches me into a melancholy funk over the people from my childhood memories who are no longer around today, and the joie de vivre we lose as we get older and can never fully get back. Most of us are our purest selves when we’re young, uninhibited by the baggage that accumulates as e grow. As children, we are able to see life for exactly as it is at face value, but are also gifted with an acute sense of the truth, which we can see more powerfully than any adult.
The trick with childhood nostalgia is not to dismantle your adult life so you can go chase your lost youth or go to grown-up preschool, but to incorporate a childlike worldview into your not-so-childish responsibilities. Our culture is youth-obsessed, but in all the wrong ways. Instead of focusing so heavily on looking like a 20-year-old for well into our 50s, we’d do better to focus on viewing the world with curiosity, emotional honesty, self-acceptance, and wonder. It can make us better, happier people — to ourselves, to loved ones, and to the kids in our lives. In short, feeling like a kid again sets us free of the emotional scars that inhibit us as adults and encourages us to life our lives more fully, as we pay more attention to the joy in what’s happening around us.
We all want to make the most of this fast-moving life, so if you want a little bit of magic to return to your day-to-day, try some of these tips for getting back in touch with your inner child.
- 1. Know when to let things roll off your back
- 2. Find fun in the mundane
- 3. See the mystery in everything
- 4. Reread a favorite book from your younger days
- 5. Run through a sprinkler
- 6. Babysit
- 7. Host a board game night
- 8. Keep popsicles in your freezer
- 9. Relive the scary stories that kept you up at night
- 10. Take a ride in the back of a car
- 11. Live your childhood dreams for a day
- 12. Question everything
- 13. Switch up your workout routine
- 14. Buy a box of Gushers, and trade a pack for a friend’s Fruit By The Foot
- 15. Color!
- 16. Play catch in the backyard
- 17. Leave your self-consciousness at the door
1. Know when to let things roll off your back
When kids get into arguments, even if it involves shouting and tears, you’re likely to spot them playing together again like nothing ever happened a few hours later. Kids have the good sense adults lack to express hurt or anger when they’re feeling it, as well as when to put things behind them, because getting your neighborhood buddy back is much more fun than a bitter stand-off. The same can be said for disagreements in adult life that we know to be petty — most of the time, letting it go brings us more satisfaction than holding onto bitterness.
2. Find fun in the mundane
Remember how as a kid you could spend a full hour staring at the clouds in the sky deciding what they looked like? Remember how a trip to the grocery store with Grandma was the biggest adventure you’d had all year, full of aisles to duck behind and shiny new granola bar packaging you’ve never seen before? Imagine if even one day of your adult life were that exciting! Look for small ways to tap into that sense of wonder in your everyday life. What would 8-year-old you think about your commute to work? When everything is exciting, time passes differently — often more slowly, in a good way, because you’re having more fun and noticing every detail. Technically, you’re making your life last longer this way because time feels slower!
3. See the mystery in everything
Lots of children’s TV involves grand adventures and heroic deeds, so it’s natural that young people look for signs of mystery everywhere. Book suddenly missing from the school library? A MYSTERY TO SOLVE!
4. Reread a favorite book from your younger days
Sweet Valley High, anyone?
5. Run through a sprinkler
Hands-down guaranteed to set your heart free. Bonus points if you break out a Slip ’N Slide.
Spend some time around nieces and nephews, or the most awesome kids in your life, to remember how the world looks through their eyes.
7. Host a board game night
Your plans most weeknights probably involve drinking with friends anyway, so why not drink with friends around a Chutes and Ladders board?
8. Keep popsicles in your freezer
You know, the gross slushy “fruit”-flavored ones in the plastic tubes.
9. Relive the scary stories that kept you up at night
Growing up, my best friend and I made a habit of reading every scary story we could find, terrifying ourselves and repeatedly looking over our shoulders for any signs of ghosts. Revisit that innocent form of terror (versus today’s fears that keep you up at night thinking about things like your relationship status, making rent, and the latest work crisis) and savor the innocent thrill of it.
10. Take a ride in the back of a car
Remember how it felt to hang out back there all the time? How little control you had over where you were going, and how that didn’t freak you out as much as it probably should have? Play the license plate game.
11. Live your childhood dreams for a day
If you wanted to be a movie star at one point, find yourself a role in a student film or as an extra. If you dreamed of being a lawyer, hang out on a law school campus one afternoon. Shadow a professional for a few hours. End the day knowing that you kept your promises to your 10-year-old self, and, depending on your circumstances, perhaps thank the universe that you ended up on a different path than some job you thought you’d be great at in fifth grade.
12. Question everything
Find novelty in as many parts of your everyday life as you can. Challenge yourself by coming up with questions about each object you pass, like a curious child would. So what if it’s a tree you see every day on your commute? To a kid, that tree is full of new facts to be explored and questions to be answered.
13. Switch up your workout routine
Spend a day or two trading your time on the elliptical for trapeze class, trampolines, jump rope, roller blading — anything reminiscent of those carefree days spent playing in your parents’ backyard.
14. Buy a box of Gushers, and trade a pack for a friend’s Fruit By The Foot
After you recover from the sugar overload, thank the universe that these are no longer your meal options and that you finally have more powerful currency in your arsenal than the coins your mom gave you to buy snacks at school lunch.
Last year, when I had hurt my foot and was expecting to be stuck on the couch for a few weeks, I got really into coloring. Ridiculous as it sounds, it was one of the most calming and joyous experiences of my day. Filling out my little Lisa Frank coloring book with every color of the rainbow was a perfect mental escape when I wanted to unwind (and it was cheaper than wine!). It brought me back to younger, simpler days.
16. Play catch in the backyard
It never fails.
17. Leave your self-consciousness at the door
One of the most humbling things about kids is their ability to just be without all the social trappings and fears that bog us down as we get older. They’re not afraid to call life like they see and make painfully honest observations, nor are they afraid of fully expressing their interests and emotions. Meanwhile, grown-ups create most of their own problems by allowing their lives to be dictated by the very hang-ups kids lack.
I’m not sure it’s possible for an adult to go just decide to shed all the inhibitions we pick up over the years, but whenever possible, spend a few minutes at a time trying to just be what you are. Focus on what’s happening in the moment rather than how you think you look or sound to everyone else in the room. It’s not easy, but trying it in small bursts will remind you just how free you felt all those years ago. Of course, at the time, we didn’t even know how good we had it. All we wanted was to grow up.
But who knows? Maybe 10 years from now you’ll be saying the same about your current self, longing to spend just one day back in the shoes of your 2019 life. Think of all the things you’ll know about the world in those future years that you don’t right now. Compared to your older self, you’re practically a child — and isn’t that what we wanted all along? Bask in it. Afterward, come back to earth, rejoin the adult world, but do so with more joy than ever. Think of all the things you’re accomplishing today that seemed terrifying or like unattainable dreams when you were a kid, and marvel at the fact those things are a regular part of your life today. Adulthood isn’t all bad!
Original by Claire Hannum