What You Can Teach Your Kids from Inside Out
Dr. Terri Mortensen
As a child psychologist, I was super excited about seeing the movie Inside Out for several reasons. What’s better than feelings represented by little people in our heads? What a great way to be able to teach my own children and my clients (as well as their parents) about feelings through a creative and visually engaging means. I was PUMPED! Most importantly, I was not disappointed. There were many profound moments during the movie, including amazing representations of memory and the importance of experiencing ALL the feelings (even the ones that are not so fun).
The moment that stood out to me the most was when Riley’s mother said to her, “Throughout all of this change, you are still our happy girl, and that has been so helpful.” On the surface, this seemed like a nice thing to say and may have even seemed like a compliment. The issue was not what was said, but the message underneath, which was “Don’t experience or show feelings other than happy. I can’t handle it.” This was a game changer in the movie and situations like this can have a major impact on children and adolescents in real life.
As parents, it is our job to help teach our children how to navigate through life and manage emotions. This is not an easy task as most of us hate to see our children hurting. However, it is extremely important for us to be able to be a container for their feelings and show them how to handle adversity. Below are some ways to get started.
· NOTICE. You know your child best and can notice changes that others might not see. Watch your child’s facial expressions and behavior closely. Notice if there are any changes from his or her usual behavior. For example, if your child is usually upbeat, but one day after school you notice your son’s posture is slumped, he won’t make eye contact, and is short when you ask how school was that day.
· DESCRIBE. It helps to be clear and specific when you describe what you see. For example, “Your eyebrows are crunched up and your fists are clenched. You seem angry.”
· REFLECT, DON’T JUDGE. Start out the conversation in a calm place yourself and imagine how you felt in a similar situation as a child. Reflect how your child feels, such as “You feel disappointed because you wanted a new toy. That’s hard.” Another example could be, “You feel angry because he pushed you.” During the movie, Sadness was great at reflecting feelings and listening. By just listening to Bing Bong when he felt sad, he felt better.
· LISTEN, DON’T SILVER LINING IT. This is probably the most difficult thing, because our natural inclination is to try to have our children have the best life and feel happy. During the movie, Joy was so uncomfortable when Riley had any negative feelings, she used distraction, fun, and anything else she could to put a silver lining and make everything seem happy again. As we learned in the movie, ALL feelings are important and need to be experienced in order to develop and grow. Listening, hugging, and showing you are there for your child will go a long way in teaching him or her how to deal with painful feelings.