Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Joy ... from Pixar's "Inside Out"

Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Joy … from Pixar’s “Inside Out”

Over the weekend we saw the movie, Inside Out, with our boys. After reading previews of the film, I expected to be moved and somewhat thrilled by the look at mental health and emotions. But I walked away with a somewhat unexpected emotion: motivation.

Motivation for presence and for patience with my little boys. To me, the movie felt like a whisper, a gentle reminder in my ears to the power of each and every early experience our children take in. A prompt into the profound opportunity good — or even challenging — moments have to shape the foundation of a little developing human. Yes, we know this instinctively, but sometimes it takes a cartoon to jolt us back into focus. I’m motivated to remember that we can’t always carry the heavy load that EVERYTHING we do with our children matters all the time but it is nice to know some of these experiences really will stick forever.

The use of the concept of core memories — the ones that happen early and we build off of for the rest of our lives — stirred me early in the movie. Early experiences have lasting and propagating power, yes. I’ve written about this in the context of what TV does to a child’s brain but haven’t really blown it out like Inside Out does. The opportunities of early learning can be expanded from emotions, too. For example, there’s evidence that infants should interact with books every day from birth. We know the more words a child hears in their first 3 years has life-altering effects.  We know toxic stress or neglect early in life changes a child’s chances for a long, healthy life. There is big opportunity to be present in order to help our children navigate their emotions at any age. That’s the sweet lesson here.

To me, the movie was a delicious depiction of the innocence of childhood and the fresh experiences projected against the wisdom of those around us (often our parents). The movie illustrates the wisdom and tensions of our own instincts and the torrid tug-o-war of our emotions (in the movie the characters jostle to take over control of the child’s mind they reside in). The metaphor here creates such a buoy for parents, such a beautiful in-reach example as we talk to our children about navigating, expressing, and using our feelings to move through experiences. This does make it easier to talk about ways that sometimes it’s sadness that ushers us back into our sincere joy.

No question the emotions coming to life facilitate conversations about the inner critic and all the other voices rattling around within our heads. Both my boys have talked about their emotions, pitted against each other, since seeing the movie in a new way. I had a striking reminder about my own emotions trying to jump off that high dive over the weekend — fear can dominate sometimes, even when we don’t want it to. It really is a hard thing to overcome our emotions and my minutes standing up on the high dive did bring into focus that we really do ask our children to overcome unknowns and fears all the time.

Of course, the movie is a little scary (aren’t all Pixar films for some reason?). And a bit sad (spoiler: some beloved characters fade away and get lost). I was literally crying within about 3 minutes and managed to squeeze tears throughout the entire thing as I thought about the vulnerability and the expanse of childhood. Do know, the scary parts ramp up as the movie plot progresses. My 6 year-old was not only on my lap at one point, but also plugging his ears, ducking his head like a ostrich in the sand and at one point asked to leave.  So even though Common Sense Media gives this a thumbs up for 6 year-olds, do know that there’s not only real emotional challenges depicted but also a bit of scary dangers painted across the screen.

I loved the visual metaphor the characters gave us into the complexities of blended emotions (one memory is both joyful and sad, at once). Inside Out nudges us to teach our children how we need a cacophony of sadness, joy, fear, disgust, and anger to understand, process, express, connect and grow up. One negative might lead us to a really big POSITIVE. What a pleasure to have such a fun time remembering one of the essential lessons in parenting: life is precious and these little people who have entrusted their days to our control really do need us around to make sure it all gets sorted out. These experiences, the ones you make TODAY will make memories, and everyday these memories have the potential to be the ones that stick around forever…