Who’s at Your Control Panel?

An Emotional Awareness Activity inspired by Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out

Yes, I was there on opening night for Disney/Pixar’s movie Inside Out!

As a child counselor and parent guide, Inside Out for me could be likened to your child’s love for Minecraft or Taylor Swift. A movie that teaches kids about their emotions, memory and the inner workings of the brain… I’m in!

The movie centers on 11-year-old Riley who moves with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. We get to follow along as her emotions, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust work at her brain’s control panel to keep her safe and healthy as she navigates all the challenging changes in her life.

One of the movie’s core messages is that ALL of our emotions are important and necessary. One emotion cannot exist to the exclusion of the others and differing emotions often co-exist within one life experience.

Our emotional system is designed to protect us and send us messages about the world around us. It indicates how things are going in our life.

While, I agree some emotions are more comfortable to feel, there are no good emotions or bad emotions. There is simply learning to hear their messages.

What Are Our Emotions Saying?

Joy’s Message: “Yay, I like this.”

Joy moves us to approach, seek or get closer to a specific person, thing or situation. It helps us find the fun and see the challenges in life as opportunities.

Sadness’s Message: “Do nothing. Lie down and give up.”

Sadness is a powerful trigger for seeking comfort and bonding with other people, especially those that are close to us. It supports us to compassionately connect with others.

Anger’s Message: “High Alert! It’s not fair! It’s not right!”

Anger let’s us know there is a problem and that things are not going as planned. It can be a motivator for change if we avoid taking it out on others or ourselves.

Fear’s Message: “Yikes! Danger! Run! Get away!”

Fear protects us from physical and emotional threats. It is constantly on the lookout for potential dangers and risks. The trick is determining if the threats are real or perceived.

Disgust’s Message: “ Yuck! That’s bad or harmful. Don’t get close to it.”

Disgust protects us from perceived threats, physically and socially. It judges things, people, places and situations around us and prepares us to avoid contact with the things that repulse us.

Who’s at the Control Panel?

In Inside Out, different emotions take their turns at the control panel in Riley’s brain. Her thoughts, words and behaviors are influenced by which emotion is in charge.

Teaching your child to identify which emotion is at their control panel, taking into consideration, that there may be more than one, will help them to develop self-awareness, self-regulation skills and self-compassion.

Naming your emotions is key. If you can name it, you can tame it.

When we name the feeling we are experiencing, soothing neurotransmitters are released into the limbic center of our brain and our whole system calms down. Dr. Dan Siegel refers to this process as Name It to Tame It.

When your child is struggling, you can guide them to name their emotion, “I wonder if you’re feeling (sad, mad, worried, etc.)?” It’s helpful to inquire about their feelings and to avoid telling them what they’re feeling.

Your child will use the left hemisphere of their brain to name what’s going on emotionally in the right hemisphere and they will calm down. Your child will feel better and you will be teaching them the exact tool they need for anything they’ll encounter in life ahead.

Your Turn…

As a fun gift to you, I created the Who’s at Your Control Panel? An Emotional Awareness Activity Sheet for Kids.

It’s a creative, engaging and fun way to practice this skill at home and to connect with your child as you guide them to name their feelings. The kids I work with love it!

Fun Printable

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27 thoughts on “Who’s at Your Control Panel?

  1. I like this, BUT… How many times do kids say, “I have anger issues” as an explanation/excuse for their out-of-control or aggressive behavior? I’m trying to teach my students that their feelings do *not* control them. I want them to know that they can usually change their feelings by changing their thinking (or at the very least they can take their self-control back by using their strategies).

    Yes, I want then to be able to recognize and acknowledge their feelings, but at the same time feel confident that *they* are the ones at the control panel.

    • Thanks for your comment! I totally agree our emotions are not an excuse for our choices. Knowing what we are feeling… pausing and being aware… allows us to avoid being reactive so we can mindfully choose how we want to respond to situations. Kids can begin to create awareness, not excuses, with this activity. I’d love to hear how it works for you!

  2. Hi, I have signed up for the free printable, but I haven’t gotten an email. Is there something else I need to do? I tried three times with two different email addresses.

  3. Thank you for the article and I have tried to get the printable sent to my email a couple of times but it doesn’t want to come to me! Could you please resend it, I think it will be an awesome activity to do with my two children, especially my son. Thank you!!!

    • Hi Kim!

      I also did not get a copy when i signed up. I tried three different emails and none worked 🙁 I would love to use this activity with my kiddos.

      thanks!

  4. What a great idea for kids to learn about emotional regulation! I have tried to get the printable emailed to me, but it doesn’t seem to be working 🙁

    Could you please send me a copy?

    Thanks!

  5. Hi there! This looks like such a great activity and I signed up but haven’t received the control panel printable. Is there something I am doing wrong? Thank you!

  6. Hi! Thanks for this, I think the movie was a fantastic way to help kids (and adults) better understand how their emotions work! I requested the activity but haven’t received it – could you email it please? I’m hoping to incorporate in Mt classroom this year 🙂

  7. Hi,I have signed up for the free printables,but I have not got them. I would like to use this activity with my child too.

    Tanks!

  8. I’ve signed up twice for the email on this and haven’t gotten an email for it yet. Do I need to do something else?
    Thank you so much

  9. Hello!
    I love all that I am learning from your website!! Very good and valuable stuff!!
    I have also signed up for three different things on your site and have not received any emails back from you yet.
    I read your comment section and recognize the fact that you’re experiencing some technical difficulties at this time and I can certainly appreciate and respect that you have responded to every single comment.
    Looking forward to being blessed by your gift of journalism in the years to come!

    God bless you!!
    Kerry

    • Thank you for your kind words! I’ve made changes to my system so fingers crossed you’re getting my emails now. You can email me at kim@growingupconfident if problems persist.

  10. I am using this for project ideas in my 8th grade Teen Leadership class. We are going over Self Concept, or how we see ourselves, and how it is formed by social experiences, social comparisons and reflected appraisals.

  11. Thanks for the printable. Just a quick question. Is it to be directed toward a specific event, in order to better process how that event went awry, perhaps, or would it be for a learning exercise, ie. would students just think of a memory/event and work on naming the emotions, and then colour in those levels?

    • Maureen,

      I use it in two ways. The first way is to build emotional awareness skills. I ask them to complete the chart based on how they’ve been feeling lately, over the past couple of days. Then we either discuss or write out two events/situations that created each of the emotions inside them.

      The second way is to process a specific event. They complete the chart and we talk about the emotions that the situation created in them. I use it more for processing and expressing feelings than identifying where things went wrong. That’s more about actions and thoughts and this activity is focused on emotions.

      Hope this helps and let me know if you have any other questions 🙂

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