When the trailers for Disney/Pixar’s latest project were first released, I was immediately intrigued. A movie about a child’s emotional experiences, from the perspective of the emotions themselves? Sign me up!
Inside Out was released this weekend and did not disappoint. We join 11 year old Riley’s Joy, Anger, Fear, Sadness and Disgust as Riley and her family transition into a new home far away from all she’s ever known. Joy typically controls Riley’s personality, but during this major life change, all emotions take turns at the helm. I could not help but notice 5 ways this movie can help caregivers discuss feelings, thoughts and life experiences with their own little movie goers:
1. Our Experiences Impact How We Feel
Riley’s 5 emotions were all affected by whatever situation she was in. If you eat your favorite meal, you will be happy. If someone sneaks up behind you, you’ll be scared. If you are meeting your best friend at a new place, you’ll be happy but also scared. This is an important concept for children to learn as it explains that our feelings are not random; they are caused by the experiences we have. When you notice an emotion rising up in your child, help them make this connection. For your younger child, you might say,“You are really happy/sad/angry because ___ happened.” For your older child or teen, you could say, “You are really happy/sad/angry right now. Why?” Note that for the older child, by asking them to explore their own understanding of their emotional experiences, you are encouraging them to connect their feelings to their life events on their own.
2. Our Experiences and Emotions Create Our Memories
In the beginning of the movie, Riley had 5 major aspects to her personality (Family, Friends, Hockey, Honesty and Goofball Islands). These personality “islands” were formed by her experiences having assigned emotions (mostly Joy) and then developing into long-term memories. This is very much what happens with us. For instance, I am considered by many who know me personally to be very nurturing. I attribute this to being the eldest in my generation of siblings and cousins. I was the one who took charge and cared for the younger ones. With children, whatever they experience as they grow can significantly impact them, not only in the moment, but can also shape who they become. This may be something for you to think over or discuss with whomever helps you care for your child. Is your child having enough healthy and positive experiences to shape a healthy, positive personality? Teenagers may also be encouraged to consider their own long-term memories and how these have influenced the person they’ve become.
3. Sometimes, One Emotion Takes Over
My favorite emotion during the movie was Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith). She was true to form and reminded me of the expressed thoughts and physical presentation of every depressed child and teenager I’ve worked with. Of course we all feel sad at some point, however, sometimes one emotion may take over from the others, causing an imbalance. If a “negative” emotion, like sadness, anger, or fear, takes over for a long period of time, it’s usually cause for concern. Disorders like depression, anxiety, ADHD, or conduct disorder can be explained to children by talking about the emotion that took over. We can also discuss this concept with children who do not have a disorder to help them understand that emotions normally wax and wane. For example, “Marie, remember when you were very sad yesterday and you cried a lot? That’s because your Sadness took over, just like Riley’s in the movie. Sometimes one of our feelings takes over for a while. I’m happy to see you feel better today.”
4. We All Have Our Own ‘Headquarters’
In the movie, Riley’s emotions were based at “Headquarters;” her conscious mind. As I left the theater, I overheard a little boy telling his father, “Dad, I think I have a headquarters too!” And he’s right! We all do. This discussion point can be an introduction to the brain for younger children. You can talk about the brain being the home for what we do, how we feel, and what we think. For older children and teenagers, you can use the term “headquarters” when checking in with them on how they’re doing, for example, by jokingly saying something like, “So, James, how’s headquarters today? Everything in order or is it chaos?”
5. Talking About How We Feel Can Help
We all know that bottling up our emotions isn’t healthy. We also know that it isn’t always easy to talk about what we’re feeling. However, we must recognize the importance of talking about our thoughts and feelings and encourage our children to do so. It can help children to see this modeled by the adults in their lives, e.g. “You know how I asked you to play quietly earlier? Well it’s because mommy is angry right now because the car isn’t working and mommy has a headache. Hopefully the car will be fixed soon.” In this example, your child hears from you that they are not the source of your anger (as children often assume they have caused others’ distress). Additionally, by discussing your hope for a resolution to the problem, your child knows that your distress is temporary. Encourage your children to talk about how they feel. Also, remember that for children and teenagers who’ve had an emotion take over, counseling or therapy gives them an outlet to talk about how they feel, while working on getting “Headquarters” under control.
ChildSpace rates Inside Out 10/10!