By Julie Morton, LCSW-C
“Who’s your friend that loves to play? Bing Bong! Bing Bong!”
If you’ve taken your child to see the movie Inside Out they may be singing this song. After all, it’s often easy to talk about portions of a movie or personal memories that are silly and playful. Inside Out portrays five emotion characters (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust) inside the head of 11 year-old Riley. As we see with Riley, who struggles when her family moves to another state, it can be hard to talk about more intense or complicated emotions. The director has commented in interviews that part of his inspiration for the movie was wondering what was going on in his daughter’s head as she transitioned from a joy-filled child into a more reserved teen.
Inside Out reminds us that emotions are experienced by everyone and are not permanent. The film portrays how each of our feelings, even the less pleasant ones, have a purpose. We see that avoiding feelings is not helpful when Joy puts Sadness in a box in an effort to keep Riley’s memories from being sad. The audience is also shown how feelings, such as Joy and Sadness, are often interconnected.
I am glad that the movie shows it is helpful and okay to express your emotions. But, it is also important to know that our feelings do not simply sit at a “control panel” commanding our behavior; we have the ability to examine them purposefully and respond to our thoughts and feelings. I wish the movie had more clearly portrayed this ability and process, too. When we observe our feelings, without judging them as right or wrong, it creates a space for us to choose a healthy response.
There are many ways to use this film to talk about feelings with your child. While any movie or circumstance presents us with the opportunity to reflect on how we navigate our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, Inside Out creates a very concrete and casual avenue for discussing those things with children. Below are examples of how you can use the film to discuss feelings with your child. You can use many of these ideas even if you have not seen the film.
Conversation Door Openers:
- Tell your child stories about feelings you’ve had and how you dealt with them.
- In the movie, the various pieces of Riley’s personality that make her who she is (related to things like honesty, goofiness, friendships, family, hockey, etc.) are represented by islands that were created by memories. Ask, “What ‘islands’ are important parts of who you are?”
- Remind your child that, like Riley, they don’t need to be “happy” or “good” all of the time.
- For Riley, Joy takes charge the most. Ask your child, “Do you have a feeling that seems to take charge?”
- Ask, “Who’s at your ‘control panel’ right now? Do you need to tell that feeling to think before acting?”
- Note that Riley has a hard time talking to her parents about her feelings. Ask,
“Why do you think that happened? When is it hard for you to talk about your feelings?”
- Mention the way Riley’s memories became colored with multiple emotions. Ask, “When have you had many feelings about one thing?”
- Talk with your child about why running away would not resolve Riley’s problem. This would also be a good opportunity to discuss why it would be unsafe.
- Ask your kids to draw their feelings as characters then talk about their picture. Or, color a picture from Inside Out (google “Inside Out Coloring page”) and ask your child to describe a time they had that feeling.
- Print and play the “Inside Out Game of Emotions.” The board has different colored “memory spots” and each color represents an emotion. When you land on a MEMORY SPOT, you must tell a memory about when you felt that emotion. This game can be played without knowledge of the movie.
- Disney’s “Mixed Emotions Improv” activity asks kids to pick cards from two piles – Emotions and Scenarios and to act out scenes based on the cards. You can also create your own scenarios or come up with a similar improv game.
Hopefully you now have a few ideas how to connect with your child about what’s going on inside their head. It’s important to connect with them in various ways. Go ahead; sing the Bing Bong song with them. You know it’s stuck in your head.
Writer’s note: It is important to distinguish between being ‘sad’ and being ‘depressed’. In our culture, the two words are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Sadness is painful, but it is a normal response to tough life events. Depression, though, is an illness characterized by sadness – and/or irritability, particularly for children and adolescents – that lasts most of the day and nearly every day for at least two weeks. Someone who is depressed shows noticeably decreased interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed as well as feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. If you suspect you or someone you know is depressed you should consult a mental health professional. Depression is an illness that can be treated.
By Julie Morton, LCSW-C, JCS Therapy Services
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