Self-Parenting Series: How to Get Started

By Dr. John K. Pollard is the author and creator of the book, Self Parenting: The Complete Guide to Your Inner Conversations.

Sober Recovery Expert Author


Now that you’re aware of the conversation going on in your head, you may want to learn how to build a more loving, supportive and nurturing relationship with your Inner Child. When first starting out, the trickiest part is to accurately identify and manage the two voices in your Inner Conversations. You will need to know which voice is saying what. Here are some practical guidelines to make sure that you are off to a good start.

1. Read the Self-Parenting “Yellow Book.”

From the very beginning in ACA support groups, Self-Parenting, the Complete Guide to Your Inner Conversations, was called the “yellow book.” With a friendly reading style and child-like illustrations it contains a complete description of both Inner Parent and Inner Child voices. Each self has 10-15 specific characteristics that identify its perspective in your Inner Conversations. This also provides the “big picture” philosophical basis of the system.

When first starting out, the trickiest part is to accurately identify and manage the two voices in your Inner Conversations. Here are some practical guidelines to make sure that you are off to a good start.

2. Recognize Who’s Talking.

For anyone who has been a parent, you know that children can have a wide range of emotions, all within a single half-hour if things are going at normal speed. For example, a child may be his or her “calm self” for 5 minutes while reading. Next, they can’t find their toy, so they are the “wandering self.” Then their toy breaks so they become the “upset Self” and when their sibling or playmate takes it they are now the “angry self.” When they have homework, they become the “studious self.”

Of course, all these “selves” come from the same child, who is simply going through different moods and experiences. In the same way, the parent can go through many different parenting styles during the day. At some point they may be “the general” or the “controller.” Or they may be “bossy boots,” “withdrawn,” “happy” or the “loving” parent. Any of these states can be part of a normal experience of parenthood.

So, for the sake of understanding all the potential voices and moods inside your mind you could simply categorize all the “parent-sounding thoughts” to the left side, and all the “child-sounding emotions” to the right side and you will begin to see that there are only two main voices and their personalities become much more clear.

3. Follow a Safe Session Format.

The Self-Parenting Program has a well-defined path to take your first steps towards a positive and nurturing dialogue with your Inner Child. This would be similar to learning about and observing the rules for safe boating if you were going to go sailing on a lake for the first time.

You want your Inner Child to feel safe and secure, so it will be willing to be open, share and communicate. Here are some of the features that make the system so comforting for the Inner Child.

  • The 23 Tips

When you first sit down to begin a Self-Parenting session, you will follow a protocol called the 23 Tips of Self-Parenting. Following these tips as the Inner Parent will provide your Inner Child the safe space to be itself, and respond in a way that won’t be judged or evaluated.

When guided by each of these tips, your Inner Child will experience the best 30 minutes of her or her life. They guarantee that you will be a positive Inner Parent during your half-hour period. For the full list of tips, you can download or print it here.

As your Inner Parent gains more experience by following these ideal protocols, you will clearly be able to determine which side is which. It's quite amazing that in just a few S/P sessions you can get a really good experience of what’s been going on inside your head for years.

  • The Writing Process

The Inner Child likes when things are written down and plain to see. From the beginning we’ve maintained a written record of our S/P sessions. This helps to clarify which voice is which. When you are writing everything down, it’s much easier to see both separate personalities right there on the page. Don’t confuse this with another popular written process known as journaling. S/P is more directed and tuned into the interactions with your Inner Child.

Writing your sessions down is also one of the primary reasons Self-Parenting has been adopted by so many therapists. The client does their S/P sessions every morning at home during the week. Now all their issues and inner conflicts are right there on the page to be reviewed and worked with by the therapist during their one hour appointment. Over the years, many clients have introduced Self-Parenting to their therapists by bringing their written sessions in for evaluation.

After a month or two, when your Inner Child sees a lot of proof that you’ve been caring and sharing, this is when your relationship begins to improve for reasons other than just the time you spend together.

  • The Inner Parent as Listener

In the early weeks of Self-Parenting, it’s always recommended that the Inner Parent simply be a listener. These are the breakthrough moments in Self-Parenting, when for the first time you are actually going to listen to your Inner Child, hear what it has to say and respond simply with, “Thank you Inner Child for telling me that.”

It's a pretty safe bet that your Inner Child has not been listened to very often without your Inner Parent attempting some form of judgment, moralizing, shaming or other roadblock to try to change or discount the true emotions your Inner Child is feeling.

You’ve probably heard the saying: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” With the Self-Parenting Program, you are making this change on the inside at your very core. From there, it will naturally spread to your outer relationships as well. You’ll begin using these skillful communication methods with the people in your outer life and there will be many beneficiaries.

Before you know it, your spouse/outer children, your boyfriend/girlfriend, boss/employees and friends/neighbors will all be pleasantly surprised by your new listening and responding skills. Turns out, we all like to be listened to and accepted with what we have to say by others.

The Self-Parenting Program is known by practitioners as a true pathway of recovery for many individuals, especially Adult Children of Alcoholics. The sooner you begin the S.P half-hour sessions, the sooner you can “become your own loving parent” and live a more intentional and fulfilling life. If you or someone you know is seeking professional help, please visit our directory of counseling and therapy centers or call 866-606-0182 to start the path to recovery today.

Missed Dr. Pollard's first article on inner dialogue? You can check it out here.


John K. Pollard, III, is the author and creator of the book, SELF-PARENTING: The Complete Guide to Your Inner Conversations. His book, published in 1987, became an international bestseller in the US and Australia. What began as a simple discovery over thirty years ago has now become the SELF-PARENTING Program used by practitioners around the world.

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