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CPTSD, PTSD and Trauma: 13 Ways to Play to Honor Our Inner Child

little girl jumping in the air near the ocean
Image by Anita S. from Pixabay

So many of us are suffering right now. Amid Mental Health Awareness and Trauma Awareness Month. Amid lockdown. Amid a pandemic. It’s like the universe (or is it, Universe) is yelling at us to slow down. To self-assess. To be self-aware. And to practice self-care. 

Too many of us know how easy it is to lose ourselves in a physical, mental or emotional downward spiral. To have all three happen at once. To fight to find our footing after our world has been turned upside down. After our breath has been taken away. And we all know what it’s like to have to find a way to breathe again. As so many have to find their way now.

We have to learn how to self-soothe. How to identify our own needs and not project our pain onto others. How to cope. Because coping is everything. 

We have to learn how to trust that we’re okay. And to believe it. Because for many of us, lockdown is bringing up unresolved feelings our inner child is still trying to manage. So even though we’re used to running against the wind, now we’re stuck in place. Where all our fears are staring us in the face.

Attacking our bodies. Controlling our minds. Weighing heavy on our souls. And all in the midst of global trauma. Making our collective trauma even more difficult to bear.

I’ve had my own share of triggers during lockdown. That have only added to the triggers I typically have. Making me dissociate. Live in a fight-or-flight state. Fall back into old patterns. Into unhealthy ways of thinking. Into despair. Making life feel even harder. Pushing me past yet another breaking point. Teaching me to reach into myself. To see my strength. And to fight. 

While fighting, I’m learning to do the things that help regulate my nervous system. The things that help me let go. The things that help me be free. I’m rediscovering (or possibly even discovering for the first time) my ability to play. To be child-like (not childish — there is quite a difference). To engage my inner child. To soothe her needs. To help ease her pain. So both she and I can find peace. So we can feel joy. So that even when life throws one more iron into our fire, we can thrive among the flames. Allowing us to rise up. Instead of burning out.   

Here Are 13 Ways to Play to Honor Our Inner Child

  1. Letting go. Learning to practice mindfulness and to be in the present. No matter what happens. Just like a toddler falls and cries but then quickly gets up and moves again. Forgetting about the momentary pain she just felt. Ready to smile and to laugh. To enjoy the next moment that comes her way. To let go. 
  2. Staying curious. With our schedules and responsibilities, it’s easy to forget to be curious. To take the time to daydream. To let our minds wander. To let ourselves feel drawn to something. And if you suffered trauma at a young age, your curiosity may not feel accessible if you are living in a fight-or-flight response. But I’m finding that being curious, taking myself safely down whatever rabbit hole I stumble upon, is actually helping me get out of the fight-or-flight response I so often find myself in.
  3. Creating incentives and rewards. For the self-care you do throughout the day. I find even something quite simple can be satisfying. For example, I write down my schedule for each day in my planner and check things off after I complete them. To feel accomplished even on the days I struggle. And I add stickers to my planner for things like doing yoga, having an idea, helping another, etc., it’s oddly satisfying. Like receiving the star stickers we used to get as rewards as kids. 
  4. Doing projects. I find that doing small projects every week boosts my imagination and creativity. Even if it’s simply reorganizing something — taking it apart and putting it together a different way — I find that having something I can fall into throughout the day is what helps me get through the day. Just like the toys and games we left setup as children, it’s something to come back to. A constant. And I find it is especially necessary to have a project during exceptionally tough times. During times I feel frozen — unable to move — having a project gets me moving again. 
  5. Coloring in adult coloring books. I like to color mandalas, mainly. I find that coloring while listening to a podcast is a great way to fit a playful break into my workday. I commit to at least five minutes. Five minutes of doing nothing but coloring and listening and letting my thoughts go. 
  6. Drawing. Well, more like doodling, I guess. I’m typically at my desk at least half the day, so one of my breaks is to draw something that came up for me that day. It’s not about how good the drawing is. Or even if it looks like what it’s supposed to (I find myself adding captions like, “This is supposed to be a…”). It’s about using my creativity. Capturing an image. Being in the moment.  
  7. Practicing yoga. Not in the spiritual or aerobic ways I typically practice yoga, but having fun with it. Being playful. Doing poses like Happy Baby and Dancing Warrior. Setting my mind and my body free.
  8. Moving freely. Jumping up and down. Doing cartwheels and handstands. Wiggling your arms and legs like they’re asleep and you’re waking them up. Remembering what it’s like to let your body feel free. 
  9. Swimming. When my husband and I were looking for houses last year (and the year before that, and the year before that), I really wanted a pool. After my grandparents had one growing up, I craved the freedom and playfulness that swimming brings. And then it came as part of the package for our first home. So now I swim often. Floating and doing handstands and somersaults and engaging all my senses. Diving in and letting go.
  10. Singing. Recently one night, my husband and I were done with dinner and our evening show, and, after hearing an inspirational song on a show we were watching, I felt the urge to sing. Like top-of-my-lungs sing. Letting my soul belt it all out. Letting it all go. So I did. And I felt free as a bird. 
  11. Dancing. The same night I started singing, I found myself wanting to get up and dance. So in the spirit of finding joy, I did. And when my husband was done with the dishes, he came and joined me. It was magical. Like the spontaneous dancing that children do, it immediately made both of us smile and giggle — feeling free together in the moment we were in.  
  12. Laughing and being silly. During lockdown, I’m even learning to laugh. To laugh at the things that used to make me want to scream. At the things my ego wants me to hold onto. Whether that means laughing by myself or with others, I make sure I laugh, really laugh, every day. I watch YouTube videos, funny shows or even some commercials that put me into hysterical tears. Letting myself go. Forgetting everything else. So that even if it’s been an especially heavy day, I feel lighter. Like a child who can still find something funny even while in pain, I too can forget my pain. Even if only for a moment.
  13. Playing. Our oldest nephew is turning 5 this year, and he, in his beautiful artistic way, wants us to dress up in costumes for his birthday. This beautiful little soul has wisely found a way to engage all of us in play at his party. To blend children and adults. Making us all the same. Playing and imagining together. In one seamless playland. Where life is everything we make it out to be. 

Have fun rediscovering the playful things your inner child needs! I wish you light, love, laughter and play. 

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CPTSD, PTSD and Trauma: 13 Ways to Play to Honor Our Inner Child

Jenna Grace

Jenna Grace is a writer and educator with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sensory processing disorder (SPD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder (SAD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) diagnoses. She writes and speaks about topics including healing from trauma, coping with neurological disorder and practicing mindfulness in order to help others and to explore new meaning. Visit her website for more of her stories.

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APA Reference
Grace, J. (2020). CPTSD, PTSD and Trauma: 13 Ways to Play to Honor Our Inner Child. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 May 2020
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