With school starting in just a few weeks, you’ve probably already seen many back-to-school aisles in stores and sales going on. Maybe you’ve already stocked up on notebooks, extra socks, and all the other necessities of school life.

However, when my oldest daughter first started going to school, I tended to avoid these areas until the week before school actually started, not realizing why this bugged me so much.

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Having grown up in a low-income Latino household, I was used to not having the freedom to browse the cute, trendy clothes racks. I didn’t have the privilege of picking all the cute gel pens and accessories I desperately wanted in my pencil box.

I often had to settle for my sister’s hand-me-downs or spend an agonizing amount of time with my mother searching for the cheapest clothes. Finding something I really liked was often met with a solemn, “Put that back, we don’t have money for that.”

As for backpacks, to my mother’s relief, we could get on a waitlist at our schools to receive a donated backpack with basic supplies inside. For my mother, who had three school-aged kids at the time, this was a God-send.

For me, standing in line every year to get those free backpacks was a constant reminder of our financial struggles. I had a hard time relating to other carefree children who could afford to grow up slowly.  

As I helped my mother fill out our household income forms that determined if we got free lunch at school, the grown-up realities of our situation became ingrained into my mind. This filled me with fears I couldn’t fully understand yet. Like many other Latino children, I learned to share the weight of adult stress at a young age.

What are inner child wounds?

We all start off as children. And sometimes, having a traumatic or painful event in your childhood can follow you into adulthood. Those traumatic events you thought you left behind as a child can negatively impact how you process or react to certain things in your adult life. The events need not necessarily be traumatic; they may be about certain needs that were left unmet, such as affection or validation.

A good example of an inner child wound is when a parent says, “Don’t cry, you’re a big kid,” to a child who fell and got hurt at the playground instead of comforting them. This sends the child a message that expressing their feelings is not okay. It could also confuse crying as a sign of weakness, leading them to bottle up their emotions as they get older. Then, as an adult, they have trouble communicating when they are sad or hurt.

Recognizing and learning to heal your childhood wounds is a lot like learning how to “re-parent” yourself or, more specifically, the child within you. 

How do we heal inner child wounds?

Like most wounds, time isn’t the only thing you need to heal. Sometimes, we need a band-aid. Other times, a hug and reassuring word helps to make a painful moment easier. One method many people use is to imagine an actual child and speak to them. This allows us to pinpoint a time when we were hurt or sad and helps us accept the pain we carried over into adulthood. 

Once we identify what caused those wounds, we can decide how to heal them. Learning to be kind to our inner child can help us to move past the traumas. This includes giving ourselves some of the things we were deprived of, like acceptance, warmth, and love. For others, doing playful things like swinging in a park. Or maybe doing something silly that would normally be joyful to a child is just as soothing. 

Shopping with my daughters has become a healing process

The sting I felt going into a new school year with just the bare necessities and bland or used clothes was not necessarily a trauma. The real pain came from the connection I made to my family’s economic difficulties.

I learned to avoid the toy and candy aisles and refused to ask for an unnecessary treat. After all, I knew all the extra money had to go to rent and bills. As an adult, the anxiety surrounding money never went away. I would immediately feel guilty if I spent money on anything nice for myself. Simply buying a coffee before work instead of making it at home would linger in the back of my mind all day.

So when it came to back-to-school shopping with my kids, I’d find myself struggling not to spoil them.

On one hand, I’d think they didn’t really need all these glittery clothes, colorful folders, and extra accessories. On the other hand, I’d think, “My kids deserve some nice things that make them feel good in school.”

That’s when it hit me: my inner child was also deserving of joy

Although I want to bring my daughters up to be financially savvy, I also have to remember they are still just kids. I’m aware I shouldn’t pass my adult worries onto them.

I also began to focus on being kinder to my inner child and no longer think of her as an ungrateful brat who got upset when they didn’t get the things they wanted. I can understand now that my parents were making sacrifices they didn’t necessarily want to make, and saying “no” to me wasn’t out of malice but to keep me fed and safe.

Yes, many times, I will still say “no” to a random request from my kids. It could be a ridiculously expensive toy or another book of stickers. But this year, I let my oldest daughter get a packet of pastel gel pens. She also got scented markers and a few other things that weren’t on our school shopping list. I then allowed my kids to freely browse the toy aisle just to see their eyes light up. Seeing their excitement and letting them pick out a small toy each had my inner child jumping for joy.

Before leaving the store, I made sure to get gel pens for myself to keep at my desk at work. Taking meeting notes with those neon-bright pens might not make sense to my co-workers. However, to my inner child, it’s pure, blissful healing.