TCKs (third culture kids) and their parents have a slowly-growing list of resources to use as they navigate their very unique world. This year, an amazing help was added from an unlikely source: a Disney Pixar film.
You’ve probably heard a lot about “Inside Out.” How it’s ambitious, how it’s really a film for adults, how it’s a tearjerker. That may all be true, but it’s also a deeply helpful tool for TCKs and their parents as they face transition and grief.
The quick version of the story is that 11-year-old Riley and her parents have just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco. While Riley faces the challenges of this change, her personified emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust) are facing turmoil and chaos of their own inside her head. The plot isn’t that complicated, but the emotions are, and that’s the beauty of viewing this film as a TCK family.
The emotions of transition
First of all, the movie resonates with TCKs because it takes place as Riley and her family are dealing with transition. Riley has been lifted out of her familiar life in Minnesota, where she had a best friend and was a star player for the hockey team. Now she’s in San Francisco, where she’s the new girl, and feeling lost.
It’s fascinating to see how the movie portrays the different emotions of transition. During this time, Joy is gone, and the major components of Riley’s personality are crumbling. Fear, Disgust, and Anger literally take control of Riley, and she’s no longer the goofy, cheerful girl she was in Minnesota. It’s not a stretch to say similar things happen when our TCKs are going through major changes.
A how-to video for grieving and comforting
In one scene, Sadness sits down next to a character named Bing Bong, who is mourning the loss of his relationship with Riley. He’s in tears, and Joy can’t get him to stop crying through her attempts to make him smile or laugh. Sadness, on the other hand, just mourns with him. The conversation is practically a kid-friendly instructional video for how to comfort someone who is grieving. I love that during the short scene, there is a moment when Sadness simply says, “It’s sad.”
Sometimes we all need a friend who will simply sit with us and say, “This is hard.”
We also see Riley’s parents comforting her when she’s upset. In one scene, her father says he misses Minnesota, too, then the family embraces as Riley cries. In another, they’re shown silently hugging and being sad together after Riley’s team has lost an important game.
I think it’s so good that the movie has an emphasis on family, and shows how families can support each other in grief, and grieve together. It is, of course, our hope that our kids will turn to us, their family, when they are facing sadness.
Even if these are only short snippets, the movie can help open doors for families to talk about grief, or even see some models of processing grief in a healthy way as a family or with a friend.
Sadness is a healthy part of life
In the movie, Joy has to learn that Sadness is not just an emotion to minimize or get rid of; she’s a vital part of Riley. That’s a good lesson for all of us: sadness is not just “okay,” but an important part of emotional health.
As Plugged In reviewer Paul Asay wrote, “What a brave message that is—that our goal isn’t to be happy all the time. We’re supposed to be … us. We’re supposed to experience life in its wholeness, even in its sadness.”
TCKs arguably face more than their fair share of sadness, which makes it even more important for them to know how to process grief in a healthy way, going through sadness, not distracting it away or pretending it isn’t there. Kids will see themselves in Riley, facing change and experiencing a lot of emotions in the mix. It’s good to know that letting “Joy” control them all the time isn’t the best answer. Sometimes, they need to let “Sadness” take the wheel.
All children will face transitions, whether it’s moving across the country, the death of a parent, or simply going through adolescence, but TCKs have those transitions coming at them much more frequently, and sometimes with greater intensity. “Inside Out” provides an enjoyable, accessible framework for talking with kids about the complex emotions they may be feeling, models “good grief,” and gives us all a reminder than Sadness is a necessary part of ourselves.