Inside Out – Helping Our Children with Emotions

It’s not our job to promote movies, but when one comes along that so creatively depicts a child’s emotions and how the child’s memories are impacted by those emotions, then it’s hard for us not to notice.

Disney/Pixar’s new Inside Out movie does a fantastic job of taking us inside the mind of an eleven year old girl named Riley. Riley is a happy child, living a normal, care-free life until her family makes a drastic, life-changing move.

The emotions that she feels during all of the pressures, stress and unknowns of this unsettling time in life are the theme of the movie. Rarely does a movie address childhood emotions in such a way. Sure – the occasional movie will feature a traumatic event in a child’s life, yet it often concludes with “just get past it and then it will be ‘happily ever after.’”

boy-fence2webInside Out takes a different approach. That “happily ever after” is what Joy, the girl’s primary emotion, assumes should be Riley’s destiny each and every day of her life. Joy does her best every day to not allow sadness, anger, disgust or fear have any control of Riley’s emotions. Yet in the end, we all learn that life’s memories can be made richer and more fulfilling if we accept the sadness that will inevitably be a part of life and learn how the loving support of family and friends during those sad moments is truly what makes life memorable and rich. Learning to cope, in spite of the inevitable sad and fearful moments in life, and coming out the better for it.

When a child comes to Coyote Hill, they often have deep-seated sadness, fear and anger stored away in their long-term memories. We don’t ignore that. Yes – once they are here we do our best to provide them with safety, love and support each and every day – JOY every day. But we also help them process those past memories, the very difficult ones, and figure out how to accept them, work through them and go on with life.

Our Case Manager and Therapist, Erica Healy, explains, “As we all know, processing painful emotions and memories is difficult and can only be done if the individual is willing. Building a relationship with the child is the most important way to help our kids get to that place. Additionally, helping children understand emotions…defining them, recognizing them on their own face and the faces of others, identifying accurate times when they have felt a feeling or saw someone else experience it, all help a child to be able to process their experiences and the emotions connected to those experiences. 

We also talk about the five senses and how emotions are connected through those senses. For example, a Home Parent makes spaghetti for dinner and it tastes just like their biological mother’s spaghetti. What does this make them feel: anger, sadness, disappointment? We teach them that it’s okay to feel any or all of those emotions. The important thing is what they do with those feelings. Many children struggle to handle their emotions in healthy ways, particularly ones connected to negative experiences. We work with each child to define healthy ways to deal with their emotions. These coping skills have to meet four requirements to be a healthy coping skill. It needs to be good for the individual, good for others, easy to do, and make the individual feel good. If healthy coping skills can be implemented by the individual consistently, that is a good sign they are gaining emotional maturity.”

Our emotions may not be cute and fun cartoon characters, like portrayed in Inside Out. But they are a major part of our memory and experience, and learning to cope with them is a huge part of what we do at Coyote Hill.

Thanks for the part you play in helping our children become whole and healthy, Inside and Out.