As a child and adolescent psychologist, I loved Inside Out. I loved the characters, the way it introduces kids to important ideas about feelings and life, the humour, the voices and the animation. I cried at the end, but I don’t think that says much given I also cried in Home Alone 2.
Interestingly, my kids didn’t love it quite as much as me. They found it “okay” but not brilliant. Some of it went over my youngest’s head, they both found it sad and at times, a little slow. My 10 year old said, “I think it was more of an educational film, like for school”.
I’m okay with that. We don’t always like the same movies (When SpongeBob Squarepants comes out on DVD I’m leaving the country). But I’m really glad they saw it, because I think it may help them – and other children - understand and think about emotions differently.
Of course learning any new concepts takes repetition and conversation, not just the one off watching of a film. To really help your kids take a leap forward in their understanding of emotions, my suggestion would be to take them to see Inside Out, but then make a follow up date the following week to take them for a milkshake to talk about it. (And if your diary is looking like mine at the moment, you can even just talk to them about it in the car on the way to school tomorrow).
But whenever you do find a moment, stop to ask questions and share your ideas about the film. Find out about their opinions. Ask them what they liked, found confusing or would change. And then use these following four questions which might prompt some important teaching moments.
Question 1: In the movie Sadness was important because she helped people around Riley see that she needed help. Can you remember a time you were sad? Can you think of anything good that happened because you were sad? Do you think there is anything good that can ever come from being sad?
Why these Questions? If children can see sadness as an important part of life then they are more likely to cope with it. Asking children to identify good things that happened when they were sad may help them think about sadness differently. (NB If children are having trouble coming up with good things about being sad, you might ask them about these things. Does sadness help us understand other people better? Does being sad help us to think about what thigs we want to change in our life? Does being sad help us appreciate being happy? Does being sad help other people love us?)
Question 2: Riley did not want to tell her Mum and Dad she was feeling sad. Do you feel like it is okay to tell me when you are sad? What about when you are angry, scared or disgusted? Are there any times I do things which makes you think it is not okay to tell me when you feel bad? Do you think it is okay to tell your friends or teachers when you are sad? Angry? Scared? Why or why not?
Why these Questions? It is important kids know they can tell us (or others) when they have tough emotions. Research shows that children who are better at expressing their emotions do better when they feel bad. Although we might think we have told our children, “you can tell me anything” – sometimes we accidentally (by the way we react) give the opposite message. These questions will help us know if children truly do feel comfortable talking to us about hard feelings. It also helps them be more accepting of their friends expressing difficult emotions to them.
Question 3: What else could Riley have done other than run away? What 3 things could you do to help you feel better if you were feeling really sad, or worried or upset?
Why these Questions: Children need help in finding constructive strategies and plans for what to do in tough times. This conversation needs to happen time and time again – not once. By asking children to elaborate on their plans (ie asking for help, being kind to themselves, getting some space, finding distraction, exercise etc etc) it helps them remember and use these plans more consistently.
Question 4: Remember how Riley had personality islands…parts of her which were very important to her, like soccer, friends, family, being goofy. What are your “personality islands”? What things are very important to you? What islands would you like to build in the future?
Why these Question? Children (and adults) need to have parts of themselves that they hold on to, spend time developing and work on. Along with many other psychologists, I call these “core values”. Helping children build their core values helps them feel like they are “bigger than” or more important than the hard emotions which come and go. Having core values helps us feel good about ourselves and our lives. This is something we can start to develop in childhood.
I hope these conversation starters help you listen to your kids, and also to teach them some important concepts. If you have any other thoughts about the movie, and how your kids reacted, please share in the comments below.
I have one more thing I want to say about this movie – but will share it in next fortnight’s blog: The one important thing Inside Out got all wrong!
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This is a book that I've spent the last two years writing, but I've been thinking about it for the last 20 years, while working as a child psychologist. Yep, I can be slow to get things done sometimes!
I've written this book for 8 to 13 year olds. I've had hundreds of little people in my head as I've written it and wanted to address the common problems faced by the average Aussie primary schooler/early high schooler.
The sections include family, friends, life, school and feelings. Each chapter consists of a common problem including: I get really worried sometimes, my friend and I had a big fight, I hate homework, my parents always nag me to do boring stuff, I feel sad for no reason sometimes, I'm worried about my body changing, someone I love died, I get so angry, I feel like I'm not smart enough, I can't get to sleep and many, many more.
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A real life story about a kid in this situation;
Information about what is normal;
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It also has a blank page at the end of chapter for parents or other adults to write some extra tips for that child personally. I'm hoping this could be a way for parents to pass on their wisdom to their kids about managing tough times.
For the younger child (8-9 year old) - you can also read this to them - and use as a discussion starter.
For an older child who wants to read themselves, this will help them think about how to cope better with the challenges life throws at them.
One last point: I am hoping this will be a great book for parents themselves to read - in order to know what to say to their child, what skills to give them and how to coach them through tough feelings or tough times.
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