Inside Out: A parent's guide

"Do you ever look at someone and wonder what's going on inside their head?"

With that question, the new summer blockbuster "Inside Out" begins. The movie follows young Riley, a pre-teen from Minnesota who's uprooted to live in San Francisco.

More specifically, the movie follows the emotions inside Riley during moments of her life.

The movie is lauded as a great introduction to emotional intelligence. And since we've discussed the importance of emotional intelligence at great length, we wanted a local expert's take on how the movie relates to real life kids.

After watching the movie herself, here are a few thoughts from Jamie Nordling, Ph.D., social developmental psychologist and assistant professor at Augustana University. We hope this gives you some ideas about how to talk about the movie with your kids to boost emotional awareness.

Emotions are natural.

The movie begins at Riley's birth, when Joy arrives. Shortly after, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust join in.

Jamie agrees that these primary emotions (along with surprise) are visible in children early (and most parents would certainly agree).

"Early on, kids recognize differences in expression, even if it's not something they can express," Jamie explains. This means that emotions are a key part of a child before they even understand what they are feeling.

And it's important that kids know that these emotions are natural.

"It's okay to feel things and it's okay to share how you feel," Jamie goes on. "And it's even more important to know how to handle those emotions."

As parents, it's our job to help our kids understand the emotional process and help them work through their own emotions. This is done in a variety of ways - including walking them through your own emotions and the emotions of others.

Questions to ask kids about emotions:

  1. In the movie, Riley had several emotions in her headquarters, just like you do. Which was your favorite emotion in the movie and why?

  2. When was a time you felt joy? Sadness? Anger? Fear? Disgust?

Understanding core memories and personality islands.

In the movie, Riley's core memories become the basis for her personality. And Jamie agrees that these episodic memories can be very important.

"We all have have experiences that are pivotal in our lives," she explains. "And they definitely influence our personality."

Questions to ask kids about core memories and personality:

  1. In the movie, Riley had several personality islands that make her who she was - hockey island, goofball island, friendship island, etc. What personality islands do you think you have? (Parents may need to help them think about things that make up their own personality.)

  2. What personality islands do you think mom/dad/brother/sister would have?

  3. How do you think your friends would describe your personality?

Understanding the emotions of others.

Beyond the emotions inside your child, there are also emotions in every person around him or her. This is most evident in the movie around the dinner table with Riley and her parents after her first day of school.

In this scene, each person in the discussion is having different responses, reactions and emotions from within their own emotional "headquarters."

This, Jamie says, is a really great thing to discuss with kids from a young age. (And it's also a great way to begin to raise empathetic children.) While empathy can start early, by the age of three, kids often begin to better understand the emotions of others.

"Parents can help kids 'perspective take,'" Jamie says. This means helping them think about the perspectives of others around them, by asking questions and sharing your own emotions.

Questions to ask kids about the emotions of others:

  1. In the movie, Riley and her parents are at the dinner table and have different emotions to the same situation. What emotions did Riley have? What about dad and mom?

  2. What emotions do you think your mom/dad/etc. has right now?

  3. (While reading) What emotions is (character) experiencing right now?

Emotions don't have to control you.

While there are so many great aspects to the movie, there are also a few differences in real life, Jamie explains.

"We are not always guided by emotions and it's very rarely one emotion working alone," she says. "It's really a complicated thing."

Emotions are instinctual to every person. But as time goes on, kids are more able to work through these complex emotions without letting it control them. It also becomes more natural for kids to make decisions with logic instead of emotion.

Questions to ask kids about controlling their emotions:

  1. When you are angry, what's an appropriate way to deal with your anger?

  2. When's a time you felt scared and what did you do?

"Overall, I think there are a lot of things in the movie you can talk to kids about," Jamie concludes. But one of the most important things for kids to remember, she says, "You do have control over your emotions."

So, pop some popcorn! Maybe it's time for a movie night!

Featured Posts
Recent Posts