‘Inside Out’ and the Pixar guide to parenting

‘Inside Out’ tells us that anger, fear and sadness are valid feelings that don’t have to be defeated

I went to the film Inside Out at the weekend and – as well as enjoying the script and characteristic inventiveness of the Pixar production – I was struck by the emotional depth of a movie whose principal audience is young children.

The story takes place inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. Her actions and thoughts are governed by five characters who live inside her brain. Each one represents a different emotion: a relentlessly upbeat woman named Joy; a short-tempered, short-statured bloke called Anger; a wet-blanket moaner (Sadness); a tightly-wound bag of nerves (Fear); and a snooty type called Disgust.

After Riley’s family move from Minnesota to San Francisco, she experiences a riot of feelings and previously rich aspects of her life – family, friendship, sport – start to fall apart. Inside her mind, all five emotions must work together to get her through this difficult period.

The chief message of the film is that it’s ok to be sad (I had to reflect that in my own parenting this is a rarely communicated message, and I’m far more likely to encourage my children to “look on the bright side” and “get on with” difficult episodes).


But there’s more to Inside Out than one simple message: just as Pixar’s Up can introduce children to loss and bereavement as serious issues, Inside Out shows them that anger, fear and sadness are valid feelings that don’t have to be suppressed or defeated.

As I researched this, I found I’m not the only person thinking these thoughts. Here is what some online experts have said about the film’s lessons for adults – in dealing both with children and each other.

What Inside Out teaches us about sadness: You can have too much joy
Lisa Damour
"Parents tend to treat dark feelings as unwelcome intruders into the idyllic childhoods we had in mind for our children. At the extreme, we can act as emotional offensive linemen, throwing our bodies in front of anything that may knock our children down and equating a happy childhood with the absence of distress. Pixar doesn't buy it. And neither should we.

“Inside Out offers parents and children a compelling defence of difficult feelings. The movie suggests that the bittersweet is a step up from untarnished joy and shows how frantic cheerfulness can stand in the way of genuine connection. In its latest release, Pixar helpfully and gleefully rejects the premise that all we should want is for our children to be happy.”

Lisa Damour, psychologist and author, was writing on the New York Times Motherlode parenting blog

What Inside Out teaches us about fear: Talk to children about worries
Cristin D. Herbort
"Fear is one of the emotions we hope our kids avoid. And when they inevitably do happen, we hope they overcome these emotions. I believe that expressing our emotions, both positive and negative, can, in many cases create a more positive experience than suppressing or avoiding these more negative emotions such as fear.

“Our natural tendency is to protect children from fears by leaving out the scary details or distracting them so they won’t think about them.

“However, rather than telling children who might be scared that there is nothing to be afraid of, why not talk to children about what they are worried about? We can begin to work through these fears with them and empower them to overcome. They may learn that, just like in Inside Out, fear is sometimes needed.”

What Inside Out teaches us about emotion: Feelings add colour to our lives Kristen
Lee Costa
"Life would be boring if our emotions were flat lined. We'd lack passion and zest. The wide range of emotions we are capable of experiencing contribute to our human experience and essence – our personality, mood, behaviour and motivation. Yes, emotions can be raw, messy and visceral – but they can also be profound, beautiful, and comforting. They all add dimension and flavour."

What Inside Out teaches us about teamwork: Don't ignore others
Pollyana Lenkic

"All voices in the team ecosystem need to be heard. The impact on a team when one voice is shut down can range from mild to catastrophic.

“This was experienced by George (Fear), a team member who was exasperated by the team’s dismissive attitude when his fears for the project were being dismissed by Sarah (Joy), who had a stronger presence and influence in the team.

“George became disengaged, felt belittled, unappreciated and frustrated by the lack of value that he felt the team perceived in him/his role. The resulting project failure caused a major issue for the team and the organisation. Teams are made up of people who carry the full spectrum of human emotions, behaviours and experiences, both positive and negative.”

Pollyanna Lenkic, director or the Australian training agency Perspectives Coaching, was writing on smartcompany.com.au

What Inside Out teaches us about disgust: It's right to find bad stuff repulsive
Jill Koss

“Disgust in the role of acceptable social behaviours has the potential to be very important. If we teach our children there are certain values that are important, and morals to follow, they have the potential to be offended (disgusted) when behaviours opposite to their values are displayed. It may keep them from getting involved in substance abuse, risk taking actions and becoming sexually active. If disgust helps them to live up to the expectations they know are important, then it plays a very positive role with the voices inside their heads.

“Providing examples of what is acceptable behaviour when disgusted, such as using words, not actions, is definitely a teachable moment.”