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.
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!