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posted: 8/16/2012 3:04 PM

Let your inner child come out and play

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Somewhere in each of us, perhaps deep inside, is a small child, just waiting to be set free. The happiness we find in our lives ultimately may depend on how able we are to let this little kid "come out and play."

A while back I sat watching a preschooler and her mother and my wife playing together at a playground. They were teasing, tickling and tumbling -- generally having a good time. I realized that this very adult woman was letting herself be just as much a child as was her young daughter. I also realized, a little sadly, that it was much harder for me to let myself go and be a kid again. I had lost touch with the child within me.

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Eric Berne, founder of the transactional analysis school of psychotherapy (TA for short), talked of three parts to our personality -- parent, child and adult. All three, he proposed, were important to our emotional health. Think for a moment about children. There is a special quality to a child that we all cherish. Excitement, wonder, trust, playfulness, mischievousness, spontaneity, affection, acceptance, sensitivity, hopefulness -- all come to mind when I muse about what makes children so special.

(Oh yes, I am very much aware of the other qualities of children that drive parents crazy at times -- the stubbornness, selfishness, recklessness, etc. Those are the parts of childhood that we don't cherish and are glad to be rid of.)

As we grow up, we put behind us our "childish ways." We tailor our behavior to model that of the adults around us. Adults are solemn, serious, suspicious, organized, reserved, judgmental and pragmatic (or so we assume). To be "good" adults, then, we work on suppressing all those qualities of childhood that are so endearing.

We lose something in that process. And what we lose are just those qualities -- our "childish ways" -- that can add a great deal to our happiness as adults.

I don't lament the loss of our childish stubbornness, selfishness or recklessness (though in fact, too many of us seem to have hung on to these qualities of childhood).

I think there is a place for wonder, playfulness, spontaneity, etc., in our adult lives. Not only a place, but a real need.

Certainly we want to use our judgment as adults to help us decide when "letting our kid loose" is appropriate. Playfulness in the middle of a meeting with our boss at work may not be such a good idea.

But there are plenty of times in our lives when we can let go and rediscover our little kid. With our own children, our spouse, our friends, we can risk giving up our grown-up facade and turning loose that small, delightful child that we have hidden within us.

As we grow older, we are increasingly able to look back across our span of years and recognize things that are really important in our lives. We are also often able to change the way we live today to reflect what we learn from considering our past.

If you discover that you have banished your child within to some small dark corner of your person, perhaps some "controlled" freedom might just be a step in the right direction. Let yourself experience some of what was special about your childhood. Rediscover the happiness that can be yours if you let your little kid "come out and play."

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