The phrase inner child has become common in modern culture. With that prevalence comes a blurring of meaning. As with other terms, what a person means by the term inner child depends on context. In overt references to psychology, this expression takes on a different meaning as compared to how it is applied in casual conversation. Some aspects of the “inner child” concept are supported by the Bible, while more formal, psychological uses generally are not.
In terms of psychology, the term inner child refers to the aspect of the personality formed in early childhood and retained to some extent throughout a person’s life. It can also refer to a person’s less mature instincts, with an emphasis on entertainment, abandon, and wonder. According to certain views, negative experiences during early development can damage this “inner child,” requiring certain corrective acts of “inner parenting” later in life.
Further, there are those who use the phrase inner child in reference to the supposedly “original” or “natural-born” version of a person. This implies that there is a “real you” that life, adult responsibility, and various disappointments might suppress.
In other cases, those who exhibit particularly immature behavior or thinking are said to be controlled by their “inner child.” Some who do not follow the supposedly natural pattern of adulthood exhibit moments of particular selfishness or pettiness, which are said to be incidents of the “inner child’s” personality taking control.
A more casual use of the phrase inner child refers to our natural desire for expression, carefree relaxation, joy, wonder, and enjoyment. A person may take a day off of work and just do something fun, expressing it as “setting my inner child free.”
In a broad sense, all these ideas have some level of connection to Scripture, but none are explicitly biblical. On the whole, more literal applications of the “inner child” concept are less compatible with the Bible. God’s Word acknowledges the importance of childhood experience and simple joy; however, it does not agree with the idea of a “real you” inherently covered up by life experience. Nor does it teach that we retain some controlling influence of our childhood personality that can overtake us as adults.
Scripture values the ideas of amazement and joy. God, our Heavenly Father, provides His children with experiences that trigger our sense of childlike wonder (Psalm 19:1; 147:4; Malachi 4:2). It’s often noted that young children never tire of pleasures that adults take for granted. In that sense, God approaches us as a father would approach his children who need guidance (Psalm 119:105) and benefit from his goodness (Luke 11:11–13). Likewise, Scripture praises those who exhibit childlike faith (Matthew 18:2–3), in contrast to cynicism or stubbornness (John 5:39–40). One could say that, when we follow His will, joy in His presence, and trust Him without reservation, God appreciates our “inner child.”
The Bible teaches the importance of properly nurturing and teaching children. That includes parenting them appropriately (Proverbs 22:6), avoiding mistreatment (Ephesians 6:4), and defending their innocence (Proverbs 6:16–19). The long-term effects of bad parenting or childhood abuse are cautioned against in Scripture (Luke 17:2; Colossians 3:21). In that way, the Bible instructs us to avoid those things that negatively impact a child’s future.
At the same time, the Bible does not support the idea that there is a “real you” being somehow covered up by life’s hardships. On the contrary, Scripture reminds us that all people are born with a sin nature (Romans 8:3; Colossians 3:5). Many of the negative experiences in our lives result from our own choices or the sinful choices of other people (Hebrews 2:1–4; Proverbs 9:12). When we are selfish, greedy, temperamental, or out of control (Galatians 5:19–21), we’re not being controlled by some damaged version of our “inner child.” We’re expressing our inherent sinfulness. The solution to those problems is not inwardly focused self-parenting. It’s a saving relationship with Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9–11).
Insofar as people use the term inner child when discussing joy, simple pleasure, or fulfillment, it can be compatible with a biblical view of humanity. However, using related ideas as a replacement for the biblical concepts of sin, salvation, accountability, or holiness is not in keeping with Scripture.