What is Age Regression (Agere/Littlespace)? | Healing Your Inner Child, Part II

In the past, I wrote a blog post about Healing Your Inner Child, which to this day, is still my most popular post. I think a lot of people have experienced childhood wounds and relate to the idea of wanting to go back and be a child again. That being said, I decided to make a “Part II” post where I talk about one way that a lot of people — myself included — engage in childlike play in a safe way: age regression.

As someone who experienced childhood trauma, I had to grow up fast. Even though I know I played with toys as a kid, I don’t have a lot of positive childhood memories. Since then, I’ve always been drawn to things like coloring books and dollhouses, even though I knew I had outgrown these things. Soon, I learned I wasn’t the only adult who felt this way — and that some adults were engaging in play with the things they used to love by participating in healthy, safe age regression.

What is Age Regression?

Age regression (“agere” for short) is a coping mechanism where a person mentally reverts to an earlier age (one where they felt safe) to deal with the effects of a mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Some people entirely regress to an earlier age, fully believing that they are that age and engaging in developmentally-appropriate behaviors for that age group. Others don’t regress completely — they may act childlike or engage in play while still acknowledging that they are no longer that age.

Regression Ages

Whether you’re fully or partially regressed, the headspace of feeling like a child, or feeling “little,” is often called “littlespace.” A lot of people have a “regression age” that they revert to every time they’re in littlespace. For others, it’s a range of ages or a certain developmental group. You can pinpoint your little age (or ages) based on the behaviors you exhibit and the activities you enjoy during littlespace:

0-1: non-verbal, crying, kicking, sucking; not potty-trained, uses pacifier and diapers; bottle-fed only

1-3: learning to be independent, becoming verbal, fantasy play, asking questions; potty-training, may or may not use diapers/pull-ups and/or pacifier; weaning off bottle to sippy cup and baby foods & some solid foods

46: explorative play, developing routines, becoming more independent, imaginative play; fully potty-trained and no longer uses pacifier; switched to sippy cup or water bottle and eats solid foods

7-11: mastering skills, becoming more concerned with social experiences, starting to question beliefs, more opportunities for independence; fully potty-trained and no longer uses pacifier; switched to regular plastic cup and/or water bottle and eats solid foods

Is Agere a Kink?

One thing that’s important to acknowledge is that age regression or littlespace is NOT a kink. Some people do engage in caregiver dynamics (I do not, so I won’t speak too much about this since it’s not something I understand well), but they are NOT sexual and there is NO power dynamic. However, you can be a “little” with or without a caregiver.

When people engage in a relationship with a power dynamic, sexual or not, they may call it DDLG or CGL. These terms are considered kink/NSFW by the agere community. To be perfectly clear, we are NOT talking about kink in this blog post! I’m talking 100% about SFW agere/littlespace.

Is Age Regression Harmful?

Agere can be healthy — there’s nothing inherently wrong with it! Being in littlespace can be a healthy coping mechanism, can keep you from engaging in maladaptive coping mechanisms (like self-harm), and can help you heal your inner child. It’s even used by some therapists to help people access traumatic memories from childhood and heal from their pasts.

Here’s a great quote from a scientific paper that I think perfectly sums it up:

Regressive behavior can be simple or complex, harmful or harmless to the individual showing the behavior and to those around them. Regression becomes problematic, especially in a hospital, when it is employed to avoid difficult adult situations or stressors.

Hermioni N. Lokko, MD, MPP & Theodore A. Stern, MD (2015)

Something I want to clear up, however, is the distinction between helpful and harmful agere behaviors. While I think it’s important to acknowledge that regression itself isn’t inherently bad, there are times when being a regressor can get in the way of leading a full and healthy life. I’ll call these “healthy” and “unhealthy” regression for the purposes of this article, although it’s rarely as black-and-white as being one or the other.

As a social work student and aspiring therapist, as well as an age regressor, I would define healthy age regression as:

  • A conscious choice (you aren’t regressing involuntarily, which can be harmful at times)
  • A form of self-care (you aren’t harming yourself or creating problems in your life by regressing)
  • Healing to your inner child (you have to define this for yourself — to me, play is healing, but temper tantrums are not healing)
  • Pure regression (“impure” regression occurs when age regressors have unwanted intrusive thoughts of “adult” things, such as sexuality)

Times when age regression can be unhealthy or unhelpful include:

  • When you regress even though you don’t want to (involuntary regression)
  • When you’re using it to avoid adult situations or it gets in the way of adult responsibilities, like going to work
  • When you are self-destructive or harm yourself in littlespace (e.g. head banging)
  • When it is your ONLY coping mechanism

To summarize, age regression usually isn’t harmful. If you’re experiencing involuntary regression and it bothers you or is causing problems in your life, you should definitely speak with a mental health professional, since it can be a symptom of more serious disorders that require psychological intervention. Otherwise, if you’re consciously engaging in agere as a form of self-care or a coping strategy, there isn’t any harm in accessing your inner child, as long as you have other grown-up ways to cope, too!

How to Be Little

Tips for Healthy Age Regression

  • Engage in age regression in a safe place, around people who understand your behavior (or at least accept it)
    • If you live with others who aren’t supportive, lock your door or do it when no one is home
  • Set up a comfortable play area with blankets, pillows, stuffies, and fairy lights (or anything you want)
  • Fill up your water bottle, sippy cup, or bottle and make snacks easily available for when you want them
  • Take care of any “adulting” before you regress: pay bills due today, get work or homework done, etc.
  • Stock up on little gear, if you can afford it, like arts and crafts supplies, stuffed animals, and cute accessories
    • If you don’t have a lot of money, Dollar Tree and Five Below are great places to get little gear!

Activities for Age Regressors

  • Eating “little” snacks or meals (dinosaur nuggets, mac ‘n’ cheese, fruit and veggies cut into shapes)
  • Sipping out of a bottle, juice box, or sippy cup (based on your “little age”)
  • Sucking on a pacifier, if you want to
  • Wearing a onesie or matching pajama set, if you want to
  • Watching kids’ TV shows or movies on Netflix or YouTube
  • Coloring a children’s coloring book or printable coloring pages with markers or crayons
  • Doing arts and crafts projects
  • Starting a “little journal” for age regression
  • Going to Build-a-Bear Workshop
  • Playing kids’ video games or phone games
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Drawing with chalk
  • Take a bubble bath with bath toys
  • Print out a reward chart and use stickers to fill it in

Inexpensive Little Gear for Age Regressors

Play-Doh 5-Pack ($3, Five Below)
Nickelodeon Character Bubbles ($3.25, Five Below)
Rainbow Sherbert Unicorn ($9.99, Claire’s)
#BFF Nail Polish ($5.99, Claire’s)
Decora Kei Bracelet Set ($4.90, Blippo)
NUK Learner Cup ($6.99, Amazon)
Hello Kitty DIY Scrapbook ($17.99, Amazon)

Healing Your Inner Child + FREE Worksheet!

I like to think that everyone has their sh*t. None of us is immune to the pain that can come with life — not even children. The problem? Children aren’t old enough to fully comprend the hurt, so they internalize it in ways that affect their behavior even as adults.

If you experienced what psychologists call an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), a type of trauma particular to childhood, you may still have thoughts and behaviors that reflect that experience today. For example, a person who received lots of criticism as a child may still feel the need to minimize themselves, or make themselves small in order to avoid negative attention from others.

But how do we begin to overcome these ACEs — especially if we aren’t even aware of how they may be affecting us? Therapy is a good start, but so is something called inner child work. Inner child work is the subject of this blog post, and it states that we can reparent ourselves as adults to make up for the trauma we experienced in childhood.

Read on to the end of this post and you will get my FREE worksheet, which you can print and fill out to determine what your inner child needs and how you can reparent yourself to feel more safe and secure in your being.

Childhood Trauma

As terrible as it is to have experienced some type of ACE, childhood trauma is incredibly common — and you are not alone. One survey found that 45% of adults in the United States have experienced at least one ACE.

So, what qualifies as an ACE? How do you know if you, too, experienced some type of childhood trauma that could still be affecting you today? Above all else, trauma is a subjective experience. What matters is not what happened to you, but how you perceived what happened to you.

The same experience could be perceived as traumatic by one person and not experienced as traumatic by another. However, some experiences are more likely to induce the body’s trauma response than others. Examples of these types of experiences include:

  • Bullying
  • Community violence
  • Natural disasters
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Physical abuse
  • Medical events
  • Sexual abuse
  • Terrorism
  • Grief

Identifying Your Inner Child

Your inner child may look different depending on what type of trauma you experienced. Identifying what type of inner child you have may help you better understand its effects on your life.

The Abandoned Child has typically experienced either abuse or neglect — or, on a smaller scale, had divorced parents or did not receive enough attention from their parents. They may feel lonely or insecure, and/or experience a subjective feeling of abandonment.

The Playful Child is a healthy child who has not experienced trauma. However, in adulthood, we often lose sight of the Playful Child. Getting back in touch with our playful side is a healthy part of adulthood, yet something we don’t often do.

The Fearful Child may have an anxiety disorder as a result of receiving excess criticism as a child. Now, they feel uncomfortable when they are not getting constant praise or reassurance.

Because childhood trauma can be so multivaried and subtle, we may not always know when an ACE is affecting us in one of these ways. It may be helpful to you to take this wounded child questionnaire to visualize the extent to which your inner child needs to heal from traumatic events.

Reparenting Your Inner Child

In order to heal your inner child, you must begin to undo the damage your traumatic childhood did to your inner child. Experts call this reparenting, and they recommend that you don’t share this practice with your parents, since it can be unnecessarily hurtful. Instead, focus on constructive actions you can take to reparent your inner child. For example….

  1. Start making authentic decisions that reflect who you are and who you want to be. This Values Clarification Tool can help you get in touch with what values you want to live by and start making decisions in line with those values. Plus, check out my post on setting boundaries to help you make authentic choices that work best for you and your life.
  2. Create a safe space for yourself. This can be in your home or somewhere where you go that brings you in touch with your inner child. If you did not feel safe at home as a child, it is especially important to create a space for yourself where you can feel safe and loved. This should be a comfortable, roomy space where you can partake in self-care activities to take care of your inner child, such as journaling or mindfulness.
  3. Practice forgiveness, not complacency. It’s not saying that you’re okay with your parents’ hurtful actions, but it’s accepting that your parents are human and make mistakes like the rest of us. You don’t need to tell your parents explicitly that you forgive them, but it may help to write it out in a journal or write a letter that you will never send.
  4. Take part in play activities. As an adult, the need to feel or look “mature” overtakes our drive to play and be spontaneous. Determine if there are activities you used to love as a child, such as coloring or eating popsicles, that you feel comfortable taking part in. While you do so, let go of the feeling that you look silly or appear immature, and instead focus on getting in touch with your inner child and giving her the opportunity to play.
  5. Tell your inner child what he/she needs to hear in order to feel safe. You can use affirmations like “You are safe” or “You are loved” to reassure yourself in moments where you may not feel that way. Speak as if you were speaking to a child in your life; treat yourself gently, rather than giving in to your inner critic. Transforming your self-talk is one of the first and most important steps toward healing your inner child.

+ Your FREE Printable Worksheet!

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