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.
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
4–6: 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