Inside Out — Our Emotions Are Necessary

August 10, 2015
Leslie Dixon

Inside Out —  Our Emotions Are Necessary

Unless you’ve lived in a Yurt recently, you’ve heard of the movie Inside Out, Pixar’s latest animated movie, designed for kids, but thought provoking enough for parents.

I missed the experience with my four-year-old grandson, but I felt the experience would be worth my time, because of all the buzz it was receiving, even without him.

After seeing the movie,I felt maybe it would have been better if I attended with my grandson after all. Perhaps I could have channeled his inner kid, and gotten more of a perspective than I did seeing it alone.

Regardless, here’s my take-away from Inside Out:

  • Emotions are a vital part of who and what we are
  • Missing our emotions, or emotions we don’t acknowledge,  can cause hurt and inner wounding
  • The new experiences of young people should be cherished; their perceptions of the world are being formed at this point in their lives, and that transition requires care and understanding
  • It’s not uncommon for young people who don’t feel like they are being heard to want to escape
  • Even though the movie was about a girl, it applies for boys as well

I would like to address the two words we tend to interchange:  feelings and emotions.

Feelings mean anything that can we can experience via our sensory organs, even  touch, smell, and sight.

Emotions can be produced by a thought, a  memory, or external motivator, and can change our physical state as well as our interior state.

When I asked my four-year-old grandson what he thought the movie was about he said, “Sad and she kept pushing the buttons on the video game.”  When I asked a ten-year-old girl, she said she thought it was about how people have different emotions and feelings. I realized that children will perceive the movie through their filter, and the adults through theirs. Each will get a different takeaway; but what both answers had in common, was an emotional response.

From what I’ve read, Disney’s design in creating this movie was for their female character to represent a “real” girl. In the past, many of their female characters have been princesses, and may not have represented girls in a realistic way, where the child viewing could identify.  So Disney and Pixar created Riley to represent someone with real feelings, dealing with real-life experiences.

In all of our courses, starting with Puber-Tea and Guy Talk, we address the topic of emotions. It’s especially important for those entering puberty and adolescence to understand that the highs and lows are perfectly normal; ultimately, it’s how they’re handled that makes the difference. It’s like the seven dwarfs: Happy, Sad, Moody, Grumpy, Frustrated, Excited and Attitude.  I ask the kids in our courses to share who they tend to take their feelings out on, and usually it’s mom or siblings. I have them turn to their parents and come up with one positive solution versus a negative “just reacting.” Most come up with taking a dog for a walk, riding a bike, counting to ten, breathing, or deciding to talk with a parent. I strongly encourage both girls and boys to keep a journal.

At the beginning of the movie, it was obvious how strong and positive Riley was, but due to life circumstances and the absence of her emotions, she ran out of fuel, and her self-esteem and self-worth tanked.  We need constant feedback and support, and continued access to our feelings to thrive. Without our ability to experience feelings and emotions, we are isolated, and young people experience this especially intensely because they’re in transition. In Riley’s case, she had to deal with losing her emotions without realizing what was happening to her. The result was her inability to express the pain and frustration she was experiencing surrounding the changes in her life, resulting in shutdown — or depression.

The role parents play during puberty, adolescence, and any life-changing experience, has a huge impact on a child’s self esteem. This time in a children life requires even more patience and sensitivity. We address these topics specifically in our Self-Esteem & Social Media class designed for 5th and 6th grade girls and boys. Riley’s parents were excited about the move, but I didn’t feel they understood just how traumatic the move was for her. Once Riley lost her ability to feel, her responses were difficult for her parents to deal with, and they responded with exasperation — perhaps they, themselves, were not getting their emotional needs met either.

Part of being a parent is helping children to understand, and to express, their wide range of feelings and emotions. As we witnessed with Riley when she was left without her emotions and the capacity to articulate her feelings, she was ultimately unable to cope with the changes in her life.

So whatever your child or you experienced from the movie, the bottom line is:  Our job as parents is to help our children to understand feelings and emotions, to give them the tools to express them in a functional way, and to be there to hear them.  

Tools and Tips  to Help Children Cope With Their Emotions:

  • Every child is different. Understanding your child’s emotional barometer is imperative.
  • Help your child to identify what emotions they are feeling  — this is a great tool: (
  • Show your child how to channel the negative ones, and celebrate the positive
  • Once your child hits puberty, be prepared to help them to understand that feelings are perfectly normal and often caused by hormones
  • Give them coping mechanisms. Make a list.
  • Prepare them for any large life change –  be sensitive, and listen
  • Realize in many cases children might not be able to articulate what they’re feeling. Be patient and help them to express themselves
  • Girls might be more emotional, and boys might keep it in until they “explode”
  • Take classes to help you both deal with emotions and feelings positively
  • Every child can benefit from physical outlets like riding a bike, walking, swimming, or any number of sports.

We all have a variety of feeling and emotions, and that’s what makes us humans. It’s ultimately how we learn to deal with the negative emotions and celebrate the positive emotions that defines us.  Children need the guidance of parents to help them navigate their feelings and emotions.  So it is also extremely important for you, as parents, to  take a look at how you handle your own feelings and emotions. Remember, you’re the mirror for your child. Riley’s disconnected. But it was the mirroring, and reconnection at the end, that brought Riley back into herself.

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