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5 Things to Discuss with Kids from Inside Out

5 Things to Discuss with Kids from Inside Out

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by Andrew Willis Garcés, LPC

If you have kids in your life, my six-word review is: take them to see Inside Out! It’s about the inner emotional world of an eleven-year-old, hockey-playing girl who suddenly moves with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. (Spoiler alert: this post gives away some of the plot and character development.)

Apart from being a beautiful, moving film — I teared up more than once, recalling how for so many years as a teen I had trouble experiencing feelings besides anger and frustration — it gave me a reason to connect on a different level with two teenaged family members who came with me.

Although teenagers don’t always jump at any opportunity to talk with adults about their meta-cognition — thinking about thinking! — there’s lots of evidence that giving kids the chance to talk about their inner worlds boosts their psychological resilience, and helps them build coping skills for stress and for managing their own feelings. Here’s a few ideas for conversation-starters with young people if you get a chance to see Inside Out.

Important Memories
In the film, Riley’s personality is built around “core memories” with family members, friends, or memories of her own personal triumphs.
  • What’s one favorite memory you have of being with us?
  • When have you felt like we were a tight family?
  • What’s your “hockey moment” — when were you proudest of yourself?
The “control center” in Riley’s mind is steered by one of five emotions (joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust). They all had different reactions to things that happened to Riley: on the first day at a new school, Fear imagined all the catastrophes that could happen to her, Disgust was worried about whether she would fit in, Joy was excited by all the possibilities about being new, Anger was sensitive to whether she was being treated fairly by others, and Sadness imagined how Riley might “never be happy” because “I’m not good enough”.
  • Which one of those emotions is closest to how you deal with new challenges?
  • Do you think they were missing any feelings? (the film didn’t portray “surprise”, for instance) 
  • Joy and Sadness were in conflict during much of the film. What did you think of their relationship?
  • Sadness got blamed for a lot of things that went wrong. Do you think that was fair? What’s sadness good for?
  • Are there any feelings that aren’t ok, that you don’t ever want “in charge”?


  • If you had “islands of personality” like Riley does, what would yours be?
Loss & Grief
In the film, some characters experience loss. Riley feels as though she has lost her connection to friends and teammates when she moves, three of the emotions in the “control center” lose contact with Joy and Sadness for much of the film, and Joy loses Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong when he “fades” from Riley’s memory.
  • When she felt her connection to Minnesota fading, Riley got angry at her parents and friends, and later felt a deep sadness, even crying in class. After losing a hockey game, she was at first sad, then felt joyful when her teammates embraced her. Which of those moments do you most relate to?
  • Riley thought her parents wouldn’t be ok with her getting sad, which made her really unhappy. What do you do when you have feelings you don’t think are ok to share?
While Lewis Black does a wonderful job showing the disjunctive nature of anger, it is also a big part of who we are and shouldn’t also be ignored.
  • What are lessons you have learned from being angry?
  • Have you seen examples of where anger has been helpful to people?
  • How have you been able to work with your anger and use it in a constructive way? (Ie- I feel myself getting frustrated. I think I need to take a break!)
  • Do you know what triggers your anger? Do you have any ideas of other ways to cope with that trigger?

I hope these ideas are helpful and create some good discussions! If you need additional tips or help with teaching children about emotions, you can read more about family and parenting counseling and child counseling or contact us to make a counseling appointment. If you liked this post, you can also read Therapist Thoughts on Pixar’s Inside Out.

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