Have you seen Disney and Pixar’s Inside Out movie yet? 

It’s a fun, heartfelt movie with the right amount of laughs, tears, struggles, and victories. You’ll watch characters overcome adversity with love, confidence, and sacrifice. 

Inside Out is made by those who brought you favorites like Up and Toy Story. It follows the emotional experiences of a young girl named Riley – mostly from the perspective of her emotions themselves!

Here are some of the main lessons from Disney’s Inside Out Movie from my perspective as a mental health professional. There are key points for you and your family to take away from the movie which will help your child grow and thrive. Don’t miss them!

What Does A Healthy Child Look Like?

Inside Out gives you a peek into the mind of a (mentally and emotionally healthy) preteen girl. It shows how a growing child may struggle with and learn to manage a key life transition.

For a thoughtful adult viewer, the movie gives you an idea of how many times along the way a child might slip into a dysfunctional way of managing stress and change.

Seeing the turmoil that even this healthy, happy girl goes through as her emotional world and the world around her change and becomes more complex, you can imagine how any less secure child might develop low self-esteem, anxiety or depression during the preteen years.

The Preteen Years are Critical

This is captured in the the movie’s well-written story, as you can see how and why this is the case. Being 11 years old is no joke. 

Many of the young girls I see in my therapy practice are navigating their new ability to handle complex emotions, and struggling with the changes that this brings. Girls that are a bit older than Inside Out’s Riley can often link their current struggles to a tough change around the age of 11!

How To Understand Your Child’s Emotions

For the purpose of the movie, there are five core emotions: Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear and Disgust. This is similar or compatible with many predominant mental health and neurobiological theories today.

For a young child, things are relatively black and white. Often a child will quickly go from joy to sadness to anger, and then back to joy.

The way that other people (especially parental figures) respond to the child’s emotional responses will become a part of the child’s identity and the dominant story of the child’s life.

Helping Your Growing Child Understand Emotions

A healthy child needs to feel and express a range of emotions. Each emotion is trying to serve her needs in some way. I think that this is one of the main points that the story drives home. (***Spoiler Alert***: joy doesn’t work without sadness!)

A preteen is learning how to have more complex thoughts and emotional experiences (see: combined emotion memories toward the end of the film).

Inside Out shows how just being available to your child will help him or her learn positive coping tools. You don’t need to do it all for her – her mind is trying to learn!

Understanding Your Own Emotions as a Parent

There’s a clue in Inside Out about the ways in which a parent can be triggered by their child’s emotional reactions (and perhaps miss the bigger picture of what their child is experiencing).

Watching this in Inside Out may invite you a parent to use higher level functioning (stay calm and act rationally) when your child is exhibiting emotional distress. But it’s also ok to feel your own anger, sadness, fear, joy, and disgust! If you hide it from your child, she may feel more alone.

Giving You Language to Use to Discuss Your Child’s Emotions

The movie doesn’t use scientific or structural representation of the brain, but rather a theoretical model; most of what is referred to in the film is psychological theoretic terms (i.e. “Core Memories,” the subconscious, etc).

These words of reference can become a bridge between you and your child, allowing you to help your child express the emotions that she is feeling. Often a preteen will feel trapped and alone because her language hasn’t yet caught up with her feelings inside.

Sometimes Words Aren’t Needed

… But more important than language is your nonverbal presence with your child! You’ll see a great example of this toward the end of Disney Pixar’s Inside Out movie.

The Problem Isn’t The Problem, It’s How You Deal With The Problem

The lesson of the movie isn’t that Riley’s parents should have prevented change from happening to Riley or that they should have prevented the times that she fell or failed. Allowing the range of emotions to be expressed while also maintaining a healthy connection will allow a child like Riley to develop the tools necessary to cope with life’s changes.

Bottom Line

Teachers, parents, mental health professionals, and anyone who cares about a child (or has ever been a child) can benefit from the insight that this movie has to offer. It will likely be referenced in discussions about developmental and emotional health for many years to come. 

Plus, it’s an entertaining and fun movie! A must-see this summer for kids young and old.

What are your thoughts on Disney and Pixar’s Inside Out movie? What kind of thoughts did it spark for you and your family? Did it give you a chance to think about and talk about how you address emotions in your home? 

If you want to learn more about how a preteen’s mind works, make sure you read my free downloadable e-book and sign up for future updates about family mental health and wellness. 

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