I recently went to see the recent Pixar movie, Inside Out, with my family. We really enjoyed it. While some of the science featured has been controversial, I took away key messages that inspired the creation of these relaxation and emotional regulation activities. I thought the movie had many fun applications for my work with kids and in my own life as I train my brain for increased executive functioning, higher order thinking and the ability to respond rather than react to life’s ups and downs. I hope you find some of these activities fun, engaging and useful too!!
Inside Out, features Riley, a little girl who began to struggle with many of the effects above when she experienced a drastic life change as her family moved across the country for her father’s job. In response to stress, a major life change, Riley’s emotional brain begins to run the show. The control center begins to be dominated by fear, anger, and disgust. Sadness and Joy become inaccessible. As a result, Riley’s sleep is impacted, she looses a sense of connection with her family and friends, her imagination and creativity goes down, she experiences more fear, less desire to engage in things that bring her joy, and an overall sense of doom.
Inside Out Activities And Key Messages
Here are some messages I took away that you could share with the kiddos in your life, whether it is your own kids or kids you work with:
1. All emotions are important.
They are neither bad or good. See how in the movie all of the emotions play an important role in the brain? When one is out of control or not being noticed, ( as Sadness was in the movie), then all sorts of imbalance can happen.
Note with your child: When Sadness was allowed to express, to get involved in solving the problem, then Joy was also allowed back on board at the control center. All of them play important roles.
Meet My Emotions Activity:
Invite your child to draw/create pictures of her emotions. Just like Riley’s emotions were personified in the movie, your child can create pictures of her emotions as well. They can be any design imaginable: cartoons, stick figures or colored blobs, anything goes. Activate the imagination. All is acceptable. All is unique, creative and a wonderful expression. Create pictures of your emotions right along with her. Either draw, paint, or create a collage from magazines of pictures representing your emotions. When you have finished, have a “meet my emotions” sharing session. If you want to pay extra attention to one emotion that has been showing up more than others for you lately, get a picture frame and honor that emotion for a day or for the week. Get a journal and draw pictures featuring that emotion as many times a day as the emotion is noticed.
Be very careful to not judge your child’s work. Thoughtfully comment on factual things such as “you used blue.” For more on responding in a supportive, heartfelt and encouraging way to your child’s creativity, check out these amazing books: Kids’ Play by Michele Cassou or The Artful Parent by Jean Van’t Hul.
2. Your emotions are PART of you and not WHO you are.
In the movie the emotions were personified. I think this gives some space between how we feel and who we are. All emotions are okay, it is just energy in motion within us. We can help kids to be compassionate with themselves and their feelings and to be curious what the feelings are trying to tell us about life. Use these figurines an We can teach kids that they can accept how they feel even if they don’t like it. The emotions are part of Riley, part of her experience. Often behaviors or emotions are linked to who you are. For example, when kids yell and scream, show undesirable behaviors or have undesirable actions, they are often told they are “bad” or are labeled a “bad kid.” This is using shame to shape behavior. However, if kids are given messages that it is the behavior that is undesirable, that “Who they are” doesn’t change, then there is space to adjust the emotions and choose differently . Emotions go up and down. Who they are is a beautiful being and that never changes. How they feel, what happens in their life, how they behave, changes, but who they are is constant and beautiful.
“Hello Sadness, What Do You Have To Say?” Activity:
Use the pictures you and your child created of her emotions or get pictures of the characters from Inside Out or order the figurines.
Invite your child to have a conversation with the emotion that is present for him. For example, ask Sadness questions such as “What do you want me to know, Sadness?” or “What do you need right now, Sadness?” And listen to what Sadness wants to tell you. Thank Sadness for sharing. Then talk about or draw what Sadness has to say. Discuss. Be present and listen deeply, allowing your child to express whatever is there for him in the moment.
3. Notice, Express, Get Help When You Need It
Riley was reluctant to tell her parents how she felt because she felt that would undo how “proud her parents were of her.” We can teach kids and model for kids that being real with how we feel gives us the freedom to change it, to address it, and to move on. We can also model that getting help with our feelings is a powerful way to honor them, to take care of ourselves, and to be more present and available for other things. Sending the message, “when strong feelings come up, we welcome them and allow them to show us what we need” is powerful. Strong feelings are a part of life. Learning what to do with them when they come up is a powerful tool in the toolbox of life that you can give your child. He will then know what to do with those strong emotions when they come up, have some strategies at his fingertips, so that life’s downs can be used to strengthen rather than weaken his inner self. When we pay attention to and express how we feel, then we can feel better. Note with your child: Finally in the movie, when Sadness was allowed to express, and was allowed to be present, then Joy came back on board too.
Operation Bring Joy Back Activities
When your child is feeling sad and you have allowed sadness to be there, acknowledged the emotion and have gotten the messages and learning from it, then it may be time to bring joy back and to help her shift her state towards joy. Or, when you want to amplify or animate more joy in life, try some of these activities:
- Star gaze and marvel at the vastness of the billions of stars above you
- Color mandalas while listening to your favorite music
- Play catch as the sun is setting in the park
- Take your paints, brushes and canvas and hike to a beautiful spot to create
- Dance in the rain
- Dance anywhere!
- Take a bubble bath and play in the bubbles
- Watch a caterpillar crawl
- Close your eyes and imagine a million brightly colored butterflies
- Get some ribbons and twirl around
- Open new play dough, smell the fragrance (if you like it) and create play food for each other
- Bake a cake, read a book while it’s in the oven, and then enjoy!
- Arrange flowers or make flower dolls
- Paint rocks
- Create a fort in the living room and snuggle up to read
- Go on a nature safari in the forest
- Play in a solid wood outdoor playhouse
Look for O’s not X’s to bring Joy back:
Here’s the code:
X= Something I do not like
O=Something I do like
Here’s the daily challenge to bring back joy:
- look for as many O’s as you can find
- pay attention to the O’s
- pick up as many O’s as you can
Kids have loved this analogy! Explain it like this, “We are going to play a little game today. When we think of or encounter something we do not like, we tend to put an imaginary “X” through it. When we find things or thoughts we do like, we circle them. So, we are going to use a code language. For the things we like, we will call them O’s, and the things we do not like, we will call them X’s. It doesn’t mean that any of these things are “wrong or right,” just that we either like them or don’t like them.”
Let’s face it, we feel more relaxed and peaceful when we are feeling good and
focused on finding things we like in our environment. (Like looking on the bright side, or for the bright side). We live in a world where lots of people are constantly picking up X’s. The news broadcasts a new X every hour. We are saturated with an X if we choose to focus on the X’s. And, through our basic conditioning, we have trained our brains to look for things we do not like. Nothing wrong with it, it just doesn’t feel that great. It doesn’t take a lot of talent to pick up the X’s and to share them with others. So, what about challenging ourselves to look for and notice more O’s? It feels great when we are really looking for and paying attention to and picking up the O’s during our day. And, the very looking for the O’s is an O itself, actually. I have made it fun by challenging myself to find an O every hour, sometimes every minute if I am experiencing the day as “challenging.”
4. When Fear Is At Your Brain’s Control Panel
Fill your child’s life toolbox with tools for dealing with fear. Help your child to understand that everybody feels fear. Talking about fear and it’s impact on the body is very helpful to understanding what to do when fear takes over the body and rules the brain. Explain to your child that fear is really helpful when we need to move out of the way of an oncoming bus, remember not to touch a hot stove, or stay away from dangerous places. However, when fear gets at the control panel of our brain and takes over most of the time, it is getting in the way of feeling joy. That’s when all sorts of unwanted things can happen. Share with your child some of these effects that can happen when fear rules the brain:
- running away, hiding, avoiding when feeling strong emotions
- being unable to see possible solutions when difficult things happen
- difficulty sharing how we feel or even knowing how we feel
- feeling numb or unable to feel the broad spectrum of emotions
- feeling down
- feeling scared of lots of things
- stomach aches, headaches, tight muscles
- trouble sleeping, bad dreams, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- loss of interest in things we usually feel excited about
- wanting to be alone, not wanting to play with friends
- feeling like there is a volcano inside of us, “erupting” at even little things
- short attention, or attention that is all over the place
- feeling not very creative or imaginative (remember how Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong disappeared when sadness and joy were lost?)
Now ask your child what his body feels like when fear is at the control panel in his brain. Have him put his hand on the body parts that experience fear sometimes. Then share with him these three tools to put in his life toolbox for when he feels like fear is at the control panel of his brain. Explain that using these tools helps joy to get back on board.
Relaxation Toolbox for Fear:
Take a Deep Breath: Stop, drop and….take a deep breath. At the very first signs of fear, taking a deep breath signals the body that it’s time to calm down. The deep breath, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing and abdominal breathing is breath that engages the diaphragm, (that big muscle shaped like a boomerang just under your lungs), to expand the belly as the lungs fill completely and deeply with air.
Remember how the very last scene from the movie showed fear inside a cat’s mind? Well, here we are going to use the cat breath to chase fear out of the brain and to help you reconnect with your body. Here is a deep breath called the seated cat breath that you can do in a chair, great for the classroom at school:
Seated Cat Breath
- Sit in a chair with your back as straight as possible and your hands on your thighs.
- As you breathe out, bend forward, round your back like a cat, push your chin towards your chest, and press up with your hands, emptying out your lungs until they are empty.
- Now breathe in, allowing your tummy to push outward filling up with air, allowing your back to arch and your chin to lift upwards, bending your head slightly backwards. Good! Now repeat the process several times, paying attention to the in and out flow of air in your lungs.
For many more deep breathing activities, check out my ebook Deep Breathing For Kids
Park Bench Friends
Close your eyes and allow your body to get comfortable. Take a deep breath in through your nose and let it out gently through your mouth. Imagine that you are sitting in a beautiful park. There might be birds chirping or maybe you can see the trees swaying with the breeze. Imagine that you find a park bench and you sit down overlooking a beautiful view. Now, invite your Fear to sit down next to you on the bench, like you would invite a friend. Good! As you are sitting there next to Fear, ask Fear what it needs right now. Listen as fear tells you what you need to know. (Pause) If any memories or thoughts come up, invite them to sit down beside you too. See them all lined up beside you on the bench. Awesome! Now ask Fear if there are any spots in your body that need more love and care, maybe where Fear likes to hang out. Good! Gently put your hand on those spots to give them some love. Now, maybe you can imagine that you have a very special camera that can give you a bigger picture of what is going on with Fear. Maybe you can allow that camera lens to widen to get that big picture. See what you see. Good! (Pause) Ask Fear if there is anything else you need to know right now. Thank Fear, give Fear a high five, or hug Fear, any way that you want to thank Fear for sitting there with you and let Fear know that everything is okay. Allow Fear to walk away and know that you can come back here any time to talk to Fear. Begin to bring your attention back to your body and the room around you. You can open your eyes when you are ready.
Note with your child: Using your relaxation tools can help you to balance your emotions. When you do this, all emotions get to play an equal important part within you. Your memory improves, and your imagination and creativity stays strong when all your emotions are balanced.
Next post we will visit with Rainbow Unicorn, Bing Bong, and Anger to see what relaxation and regulation activities they have inspired. Stay Tuned! And…. in the meantime…. HAVE FUN RELAXING!!!