Disney’s Inside Out Helps Children Through Social-Emotional Learning


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Disney Pixar has done it again in delivering a film that is not only entertaining for all ages, but educational and touching.

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to watch an early screening of Disney’s Inside Out, , Pixar’s latest animated marvel.  The movie tells the story of Riley, an 11 year old fun-loving Midwestern girl, and her emotions personified as characters (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust).

A new job for Riley’s father prompts the family to make a move from their settled and happy life in the Midwest to San Francisco.  It’s this change that propels the story of Inside Out.  Riley’s emotions work to help her navigate through this transition and a unique story unfolds full of fantasy, comedy, and tender moments.

Although the 3D animation is astounding, the whimsical adventure is full of creative fantasy that will light up any child’s eyes, and the characters funny and lovable, the most significant feature of this film is it’s social-emotional learning themes.  Social-emotional learning includes the acquisition of life skills that help you deal with yourself, with others, and effectively handling them both together to live a successful and productive life.

Very heavy for a child’s movie right?  Actually, it isn’t that complicated.

As a parent, we’re always trying to be mindful of how to teach our children to manage their emotions.  How many times have you told your child to “Cheer up”, “Stop crying”, or even “It’s okay to be sad.”  We are constantly teaching are children from a young age to recognize their emotions and reign them in when emotions can get the best of them and/or the situation.  We want our children to be self-assured and confident in all situations.  According to CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, youth who are socialy and emotionally competent are:

  • self-aware
  • able to regulate their emotions.
  • socially aware
  • skilled in establishing and maintaining good relationships
  • show responsible decision-making at school, at home, and in the community

Teaching children social-emotional skills is just as important as academic skills to prepare them for adulthood.  Especially with today’s growing concern with bullying and mental health issues among youth, it is even more critical for us all to check in on our children, no matter what age, and help them gauge their feelings, reactions, and perceptions of their self, relationships, and circumstances.

Disney’s Inside Out does this right.  It’s a great vehicle to start dialogue with your child about self-awareness.  The movie begins by explaining how the emotions work together in Riley’s brain to help her handle a day’s minor trials and challenges.  Here are five notable points the movie illustrates healthy mindfulness to chlidren:

It is normal to feel an array of emotions.  Each emotion (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust) works in the “headquarters” of Riley’s brain.  Depending on the situation, an emotion will get into play and take the healm at the control console for various situations Riley is in. Children will see that it’s perfectly okay and natural to feel anger, fear, or sadness as a reaction to a situation.

Emotions can be managed.  Although each emotion takes its turn at controlling Riley’s reaction as necessary, it’s Joy that has the responsibility in ensuring that their is a balance between the emotions.  Each memory or moment is encapsulated ina little sphere which indicates the color of the emotion that has taken over that memory.  Joy ensures that Riley doesn’t have too many negative emotion spheres taking over her day.  So ultimately, children see that although a day’s events can be mixed with up and downs, they can ensure that their overall existence is a happy one.

It’s okay to be sad sometimes.  Without telling too much of the story, moviegoers will learn that it is okay to feel a negative emotion.  How we perceive and act on that emotion is what can turn our situations into positive ones!

Our personalities are influenced by a variety of factors.  Riley’s memories nurture aspects of her life that are most significant to her (referred to as “islands”) including family, hockey, friendships, and more.  All the elements of our lives should be nurtured to remain balanced and healthy.  Children can see in this movie how negative actions and reactions can disrupt and destroy things that make us happy and balanced.

The factors that affect our personalities are flexible and always changing.  Riley’s “islands” that comprise her self prove that they can be nurtured, rebuilt, and expanded.  Likewise, new islands can be formed based on new situations.  Whereas a child may think their family is crumbling, they can understand that it can be rebuilt to be even stronger or restructured to be even better.  New friendships can enhance our lives.  New hobbies can take the place of old ones.  We are dynamic beings and change is inevitable.  It’s our management of emotions that help us make the right choices in keeping us successful and happy amidst change.

Disney’s Inside Out is a perfect movie to start your summer with your children.  Everyone will enjoy it and it will be a great talking point at the dinner table to discuss emotions with your children.  Especially if your children are sensitive, self-concious, or dealing with an issue, make time to talk about how your children are feeling.  Even if you think your child is not undergoing a major tribulation in life, it is important to touch base with them and gauge the health of their sense of self and relationships.  Inspired by the movie, I even started using an emotions jar with my kids to help discuss their feelings.  You can see what I did here!

Disney’s Inside Out opens in theaters this Friday, June 19th!  Let me know how you like the movie!


Disclosure:  I am not affiliated with Disney nor did I receive any compensation to write this review.  The thoughts and opinions here are completely my own.

You may also like