Transactional Analysis

by Len Horridge


The child ego is a reflection of what you felt when you were young, a way of showing emotions or just behaving yourself to fit in with demands.

  • The FREE child is the natural, loving, carefree, curious, loving and trustful side of our character.
  • The ADAPTED child represents the attention seeking, manipulative side. This is the person who plays on emotions to get their own way as well as getting along with authority figures (doing as they’re told).

The child ego is mostly to do with our feelings and, like the parent ego state, is archaic, coming from our past.

Most responses from the child tape are related to our feelings and can be our initial response to a situation. However, as with the parent ego state, there are two distinct sides that Berne highlighted.

The free child

The free child is seen as honest, loving and caring, a child that lets their true feelings out. This can be mostly positive, of course, but those of us who have children will know that their complete honesty can be an embarrassment at times (‘But you did say Grandma smelled, Daddy’). Sometimes, it can be better to say the second thing that comes into your mind, but a child does not know this! This is a reflection of the immaturity of the free child.

The free child, though, is creative, loving, honest, expressive and spontaneous. Importantly, the child is always non-critical (the child is never critical, that is the role of the parent). However, people stuck in the free child role can be difficult to control; they can be free-spirits in every sense of the word, not liking to be hampered by rules and regulations (or administration!).

The adapted child

The adapted child is more negative. This is the moody, unhelpful, ‘toys out of the pram’ side of the child – the emotionally difficult child.

As with the parent, the two sides of the child ego have obvious strengths and weaknesses.

Adapted children are often moody, but will ‘do as they are told’ and can be excellent foot soldiers (people often refer to jobsworths as this type of ego state). This reflects how we responded at school to questions (putting our hands up) and our willingness to stick to rules and regulations. This compliant side can be useful and suggests good team players.

Both, therefore, have their worth.

The strong child state

So, do you have a strong child ego state?

If you scored more than ten you may well have a strong child ego, with proviso of the limitations of questionnaires, as before.

Here are some indicators:


Can’t, won’t, gimme, did I do alright, I’m scared, it’s your fault, dunno – these reflect the child ego

Body language

The body language of the child includes being be bleary-eyed, batting eyelashes, biting nails, raising hand to speak, crying, slumped, innocent and helpless.


The tone is giggling, whining, teasing, swearing, manipulative or teasing.

You need to analyse your own behaviours and people’s responses to them to see if you have a strong child ego state.