If you’re like millions of parents, you took your kid(s) to see Inside Out, and discovered a movie that speaks to young and old alike. But is this just another movie, or is there an opportunity for something more? Considering that the filmmakers consulted with psychologists during the making of the film, I believe it is an opportunity to increase children’s awareness of and communication about their emotions.
But how does one go about this? I believe the movie does a lot of the heavy lifting for parents, as emotions and the way we process them is very well explained and demonstrated.
For younger children, this may be as simple as asking them “who’s driving now?” when they react in a certain way. It may be necessary initially would caution against using this strictly as a way to express feelings anger. After all, most of the times we know when our kids are angry and exactly what they’re angry about. Often it’s a variation of hearing one simple word: “no.” The characters in the movie, with their colorful illustrations (Sadness couldn’t look, well, sadder) may resonate with younger kids in a way that words cannot. Also, as a parent, ask yourself: do I give my children attention when they are sitting quietly, or do I only react to strong negative emotions, thereby inadvertently reinforcing them?
But what about older children, especially kids around the same age as Riley, the young girl in the movie? These children may benefit from learning how to recognize what they’re feeling as well, but they also may learn how to manage these emotions or redirect problematic behaviors themselves. For example, Riley clearly enjoyed team sports in the past, though the current lack of this interaction partly drives the movie’s plot. Is there something an older child can do to express or channel these emotions? Asking them to identify “personality islands,” especially at a time that they are calm and willing to talk and be introspective—as opposed to in the midst of a temper tantrum. Once this “island” is identified, discussing and reinforcing the personality trait’s positive and useful qualities may give it a concrete (and therefore useful) aspect, allowing the child to consciously “access it” as a coping skill. I am personally an advocate for artistic expression (drawing, writing, creating music), especially as a way to cope with difficult feelings and emotions. If you look at the lives of painters, writers, musicians and so forth, they are generally filled with struggles. No one ever said “happiness and complacency produces great art.”
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture