Image credit: Her at Parents of Color Seek Newborn to Adopt
by Addison Cooper, LCSW
I recently reviewed the new Disney film, Planes: Fire and Rescue. One of the things I liked best about the film was the protagonist’s torque meter. Maybe I should explain that. Planes: Fire and Rescue is the sequel to Disney’s 2013 film Planes. In the first film, humble workaday plane Dusty Crophopper becomes a famous racing plane. A year later, Dusty is still enjoying his celebrity status; however, he finds that he is having difficulty performing at the level his fans are used to. A mechanic explains the problem: Dusty’s machinery is breaking down and cannot be replaced. Too much torque will cause Dusty to break. To help him avoid disaster, the mechanic installs a meter that will help Dusty assess how much stress he is under. The mechanic even includes a warning light to let Dusty know when he is being over-taxed.
This reminded me of a tool introduced in Karyn Purvis’ Trust-Based Parenting video curriculum, in which kids are asked to indicate the level of emotional energy they’re feeling by using a simple, home-crafted indicator. I suggested something similar on my site, Adoption at the Movies, and a reader sent in photos of a very interesting emotional tachometer. A colorful needle can be moved around to point to a range of faces, each illustrating, and labeled with, a different emotion. (See illustration above.)
This could certainly be a helpful tool for families and professionals to use in helping kids identify their difficult emotions, and it might be more palatable to kids, since it can be tied into the story of a beloved film hero.
Here are some other ideas of how movies can tie into exercises that families can use to help their kids talk about their feelings.
In Frozen, Elsa has struggled with others’ expectations that she hide her feelings and other truths about herself. She finally faces the pressure of these expectations and decides to “let it go.” She embraces herself, but still expects that others will not accept her. She later finds that others do accept her for who she is. A video of the song could be an invitation (or a celebration) for a child to work toward releasing shame. A simple question could be asked: “What would you let go, if you could?”
In the delightful French film Ernest and Celestine, a bear and a mouse become friends—and ultimately become family—even though their respective cultures expect them to be incompatible enemies. This could be suggested viewing for kids who are struggling with membership in a blended or multicultural family. Little Celestine draws pictures to convey her impression of her relationship with Ernest, and parents could invite children, after watching the film, to be like Celestine and draw family pictures.
Disney’s Meet the Robinsons focuses on Lewis, an orphan who mourns a loss from his past until he is confronted with a hopeful future. This film could be used to encourage children to optimistically imagine the future while also examining the past. Lewis is an inventor; after watching the movie, parents could ask children to use Legos to design an imaginary invention that will make the world better. Once it’s built, parents can ask children what it does, how it works, and how it makes the world better.
In The Tigger Movie, the “bouncy, trouncy, pouncy, flouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun” tiger conveys his loneliness at being the only tiger among his group of friends. He wonders where the other tigers must be, and although he does not find them, he finds comfort and belonging in his group of friends. He also carries a locket, which holds a picture of the thing closest to him. A child could be asked to design a similar locket to identify the things that are most important. It can be opened, to share what is important, or closed, to provide security that you can keep your thoughts confidential for a time. The child can choose when to open or close the locket (and also, when to change the picture, and what to change it to).
In Rise of the Guardians, a character uses nesting dolls to illustrate that people have many layers to their identities. Children could be invited to see the film and then complete a similar craft to express the different aspects of how they perceive themselves and how they wish to be perceived. Parents could provide a series of small jewelry boxes, and on the outside of each box, in sequence, children can draw how they want to be seen by strangers, friends, and family, with each smaller box representing how the child wishes to be seen by the more intimate group of people. On the inside of the smallest box, children can draw representations of who they believe they are, or of who they wish to be.
This is a small list of suggestions. Many films are released each year, and many kids are often excited about the newest film. Why not make the cinema part of your professional development? With a clinical eye, movies can provide an excellent and easy way to connect with clients, to provide them with understandable analogies, and possibly even provide exercises to use at home!
Addison Cooper is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in California and Missouri. He reviews films and writes movie discussion guides for foster and adoptive families at Adoption at the Movies (www.adoptionlcsw.com), and is a supervisor at a foster care and adoption agency in Southern California. His articles on adoption and film have also appeared in Adoptive Families and Foster Focus magazines. Find him on Twitter @AddisonCooper.