How Parents Can Answer Questions About “Inside Out”

Erin Leonard photo

As a child, you may remember a movie that really tugged at your emotions. Whether it made you sad, angry, or disappointed, you may have experienced one or more of these emotions at some point. The movie, “Inside Out,” is known to evoke a few of these feelings in little ones, so psychotherapist Dr. Erin Leonard is helping parents understand and deal with their child’s negative feelings.

Here are a few points she says you should keep in mind:

1) All the feelings are important

2) Often parents are uncomfortable with their child’s negative feelings. For example anger, sadness, and disappointment. Often, this is for 3 reasons. A) They disagree with the child’s feelings or B) They want the child to feel better. C) They feel responsible for causing the negative feelings within the child, and feel guilty, so they deny they exist in their child.

For example, in the movie, the parents wanted their daughter to stay positive and happy because they were having trouble dealing with their own disappointment and stress with the move. So, they coached her to stay “happy.” She wasn’t allowed to express her true feelings. She had to hide them. This, as the movie shows, has a very negative and snowball-like effect.

3) It’s important to honor the child’s feelings– even if you disagree, or feel responsible for them (a move).

For example, in the movie, at the end, the dad took some time to hear about his daughter’s sadness and disappointment. He was able to have empathy for her and he told her he understood how she felt because he felt similarly. As soon as the daughter felt like she could say how she really felt and received empathy and support, the emotional closeness in the relationship was restored and she felt much better.

4) It is important to note that having empathy for your child and honoring their feelings does not mean you have to change a decision or not follow through with a rule.

For example, the dad in the movie did not say, “Ok, let’s move back!” He simply empathized with his daughter’s feelings, which helps dissipate the negative feelings and returns emotional coldness to the relationship. Moving back would not have fixed their relationship. Erin Leonard also wrote a blog on Kid’s Being Homesick During Summer Camp.

Read Dr. Leonard’s latest book Emotional Terrorism.