Monday, June 29, 2015

Six Ways to Help Your Child Navigate Emotional Storms - The 'Inside Out' Story

Photo Credit: Amanda Mills
Pixar's new film, "Inside Out", is the story of an 11-year old girl named Riley who is dealing with strong emotions resulting from her family's move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Much of the "stage" for this intriguing and innovative film is Riley's mind. 

Through Riley's emotional journey, her memories and emotions are dictated by a team of characters representing joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. These characters "live" inside Riley and seem at first to control how she feels about the move. As the story arc progresses, she - and we - learn how to better navigate our internal emotional stage and its cast of characters. 

The Role of Caregivers

The Pixar film focuses on the important role of emotions - even those we label as "negative" - and highlights the importance of how parents and other caregivers respond to children's emotions.

Dr. J. Zoe Klemfuss, a psychologist and researcher at Florida International University's Center for Children and Family offers some cogent guidance for parents and other caregivers to help children through challenging emotional times.

According to Dr. Klemfuss,

“Simply encouraging children to talk about their thoughts and feelings might not be helpful, especially if children are so young that they can’t effectively process or cope with those thoughts and feelings,” Klemfuss said. “What seems to be more effective is helping them understand the causes of their thoughts and feelings. This might involve simply asking them what made them feel a given way, or think a given thought and then helping them generate possibilities if they get stuck.”

Six Ways to Help a Child Navigate Emotional Storms

So how can we as caregivers help a child or adolescent navigate emotional storms? Dr. Klemfuss recommendations include:

  • "Practice by talking about shared events. Your children learn from you. Show them how you remember and talk about events or feelings you both experienced. It can also be helpful to talk about how other participants in the event might have felt."
  • "Avoid yes/no questions. Ask open-ended questions like what, when, who, etc., follow up on what your child says, and give feedback if it was a shared event (e.g. “Actually, daddy wasn’t in the car with us.”)"
  • "Ask about emotions and their causes. “How did you feel when [event] happened?” Then ask 'Why do you think that happened or you felt that way?'"
  • "Show support. Use very simple support behaviors like smiling when appropriate, using eye contact, and maintaining open body posture."
  • "Minimize negative reactions. You want to encourage them to want to talk to you. A negative reaction may deter them from confiding in you again or sharing their feelings."
  • "Brainstorm effective coping strategies with your children. These include figuring out how to avoid a negative situation if it starts to happen again (e.g. “If this happens again, you can tell a teacher right away.”) Don’t be afraid to directly tell them what to do when they feel a certain way."
Your Experiences and Suggestions

As a parent, caregiver, or professional helper what are your experiences with helping children or adolescents? What suggestions do you have that can help a young person navigate emotional storms in their lives? 

Please share your experiences and suggestions in the comments section below.

Blessings and light,

Steve Carter

Stephen Carter
Stress Solutions, LLC

Important Note: This and all other postings to this blog are for informational purposes only. This and all other posts are not intended to diagnose, treat, or otherwise recommend any treatment for any medical or psychological condition. Anyone using any of the information contained in this or any other posting on this website does so at his or her own risk. You are urged to seek competent medical consultations with appropriate licensed medical professionals for any and all medical, psychological, or physical conditions.


Florida Internation University News: 'Inside Out' Provides Roadmap for Navigating Emotions:

Does Pixar's Inside Out Show How Memory Actually Works?