Kidulting: Colouring and cuddly toys are not just for children, say experts

Adults can practise inner-child therapy by taking up activities and props that bring back happy memories

Kidulting involves grown-ups reliving favourite childhood memories and activities to de-stress. Getty Images
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Whenever psychologist Rashi Garg feels stressed, she locks herself in a room, picks up some colouring books and indulges in what she refers to as “play time”.

Each session lasts between 40 minutes and an hour, and involves Garg colouring different objects, birds and animals in vivid hues, occasionally shading them to “provide texture and depth” to her creations.

Garg, who lives in Delhi, claims the sessions are cathartic and immersive.

Spending time with soft toys melts away all my stress
Puja Khemka, 36, teacher

“As a child, colouring was my favourite hobby. By taking it up again, I feel like I’m reliving the period of my life that was most joyous and blissful,” explains Garg, 22.

“I started colouring during the pandemic when I felt overwhelmed and it’s now become an integral part of my life.”

Hundreds of miles away in India’s financial capital Mumbai, Puja Khemka enjoys cuddling her motley collection of soft toys, of which she has at least 50.

Cherubic teddy bears with round noses, puppies with velvet coats and pink-frocked dolls with shiny eyes fill every corner of her room.

Kidulting, premised on the concept of inner-child therapy, helps adults recreate a happy childhood
Dr Neelam Mishra, psychologist

“I can’t explain why I love soft toys so much, but spending time with them melts away all my stress. For my birthday, I tell my family to buy me only soft toys,” says the schoolteacher, 36.

What Garg and Khemka are indulging in has been labelled “kidulting”, a cultural trend where adults participate in fun and playful activities generally meant for children. This could be riding bicycles for leisure, drawing and colouring, building Lego sets, playing with dolls or riding swings in the park.

Psychologists say such activities soared in popularity during the early months of the pandemic when grown-ups relived part of their past carefree lives to de-stress.

“Childhood memories are frequently associated with simple joys. Kidulting, premised on the concept of inner-child therapy, helps adults recreate a happy childhood,” says Dr Neelam Mishra, a consultant at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi.

“This bolsters well-being as playful activities are known to trigger the release of the happy hormone dopamine. This is especially important when people are feeling anxious.”

The psychologist adds, for many, childhood carries with it an association of being the “golden period” of their life. Kidulting taps into that reservoir of positivity or pick-me-up moments from a past happy phase to tide over current stress.

“Many millennials and boomers who consulted me during the pandemic sought refuge in these activities. The familiarity of the activity provides the perfect base for unwinding and a brief respite from adult commitments and duties. This creates a sense of joy and gradual healing,” says Mishra.

Even after the pandemic subsided, many have continued to kidult. The trend has also gripped TikTok where influencers post shots of themselves doing activities that gave them joy as children.

Studies published in the journal Emotion found that nostalgia stimulates self-continuity, or a sense of connection between one’s past and present, and that nostalgia can also strengthen people’s feelings of connectedness with others.

“Overall, nostalgia equals to comfort. What’s not to love about doing things that bring joy and contentment even if you’re an adult?” says Khemka. “I find that playtime also makes me see things in novel and unexpected ways offering a fresh insight into life’s complexities.”

As adults, we become too stuck in our ways, so playing helps channel our inner child
Sushil Pathak, 43, documentary filmmaker

Brands and companies have been quick to jump on the kidulting bandwagon. McDonald’s, for example, rolled out limited edition Adult Happy Meals complete with collectible toys.

Worldwide, kidulting venues have sprung up to tap into the demand. Dopamine Land, an interactive museum in London and Madrid, offers kidulting experiences to relive fun childhood memories.

Wondr in Amsterdam lets people dive into a sea of pink marshmallows and write on the walls. Ballie Ballerson has a giant ballpit for adults and is currently present in three cities in the UK. At Soap Football in Bangaluru, one can play football in pools of soap without the mess.

The al fresco venue allows groups of adults to enjoy a 55-minute match on a heavily fortified plastic “field” covered with diluted soap water. The risk from tumbling and slipping is eliminated with special floors designed to break the fall.

“We’ve seen a 30 per cent increase in footfall each year since 2021,” says the manager. “Apart from groups of friends, corporate clients use the venue for bonding exercises. We’ll soon be expanding to accommodate the rush.”

Sushil Pathak, 43, a documentary filmmaker, and regular visitor at an escape room venture called Codebreak 60 in Delhi, says the concept of “playing” shouldn’t be restricted to just children.

“Playing makes one feel more spontaneous and happy. It’s about being open to new experiences. As adults, we become too stuck in our ways, so such recreation helps us channel our inner child, and see and enjoy things afresh.”

Updated: December 28, 2023, 3:50 AM