Inside Out: A Tutorial on Children’s Emotions

Have you seen the movie Inside Out? We love it at our house! It’s a wonderful movie that really helps children (and adults for that matter) understand emotions. We watched it a lot since we were stuck in the house for the last few days with B sick with a sinus infection (no flu!). And due to the number of times we watched it, I had a lot of time to reflect on our parenting style.

There is one scene where the family is at the dinner table.  The whole family is stressed, scared and tired. They just moved to San Francisco and nothing is working out.  The moving van was delayed and work projects are falling through for the dad. The daughter, Riley, misses her friends after an awful day at her new school. The scene is pivotal because it shows how emotions and reactions are so often misunderstood.  Riley appears uncooperative and angry but inside she is hurting, scared and grieving.  Her father mistakes her behavior as being rebellious for no reason so he puts his proverbial foot down by enforcing a stern disciplinary tone.  But he is having a hard time too.  The dinner ends with Riley storming out angry and hurt.

Little People, BIG emotions

I love that B loves Inside Out (or as he calls it, Inside Outside). I am pretty sure at 3, he is drawn to the colors and the quirky characters but it made me aware of what might be going on in my little one’s head when he has a meltdown. I understand that at 3 he has BIG emotions that he is learning how to handle. Unfortunately, sometimes due to other things going on I don’t always remember all that he is coping with from day to day.

The dinner table scene made me think about the times when I reacted like Riley’s dad. I thought a stern tone was more effective than compassionate understanding.  I don’t take that route often but when I have,  my outburst is always met with an equally strong outburst (and well deserved too).  So outburst matches outburst and no progress is made but feelings are hurt and frustration rises.  But the times when I have acted in the opposite manner…I slowed down and didn’t let my frustration meet his frustration his behavior was different.

Disciplining With Understanding And Compassion

For example, there were a couple of times when we were in large groups and he had a typical 3-year-old meltdown. He was disagreeable, argumentative, whiny, and disobedient.  Something just clicked in those moments and I remembered how my cousin use to remove her son from the scene at that age and take him to the bathroom. You would have thought the bathroom was the worst place in the world from the way her son would cry. Most onlookers probably thought she was removing him to spank him but she wasn’t. I witnessed the bathroom correction one time. She  removed him from all the activity and stood him on the toilet seat to be at eye level.  Then with a calm but firm voice she spoke to him about what he was doing and what he needed to do better. Her son cried through the conversation but in just a few short minutes came back out a new and happy child.

In the midst of B’s meltdown, I remembered my cousin’s tactic.  To my surprise, in only about five minutes B had settled down as I stood eye level with him in the bathroom correcting with a calm but firm voice and ending with hugs.  We often think a firm commandment will end things quickly but usually we find ourselves in a power struggle. Taking a time out together to really try to understand, with love, helps move everything along a lot faster and ends on such a higher note.

Not All Negative Emotions Come From A Place of Disobedience

Ultimately, our children, are either just trying to understand or be understood during these meltdowns. The world is so big and they are so tiny and new here.  I think how overwhelming things are with the amount of new information they have to take in and process every day.  But these understandings are easy to remember when I am in a calm state. Too often as a working mom during the week, we are frantically rushing in the morning and then doing errands for the next day in the evening. I get tired and need B to cooperate.  Frustration mounts when we are tired but every time I remember to…

….slow down

….give a few extra hugs

….listen with the intent to understand

….lower my own frustration

….things go so much better. When I remember these things, our “inside” emotions are better understood and the meltdown subsides.  It’s amazing how you learn life lessons from cartoon movies!  I hope all of us remember in the midst of the chaos of parenting that not all negative emotions come from a place of disobedience. Sometimes it is just the scared inner (and outer) child needing comfort and understanding. When in doubt, grab your sweet child in a hug like my mom always did and that will change the energy for both of you.


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