Committee for Children Blog

Inside Out: A Parent’s Guide to Viewing & Teaching SEL Skills

Melissa Benaroya, LICSW

The recently released Pixar/Disney film Inside Out is a wonderful opportunity for families not only to enjoy an entertaining movie together, but also to have really valuable conversations about the importance of all emotions, what purpose they serve, and how best to express them. Movies such as Inside Out can serve as a valuable tool to teaching social-emotional learning (SEL) and enhance verbal skills when parents are thoughtful about the conversations they have with their children before, during, and after viewing such a film together.

Young children have all the same emotions that adults have, such as anger, joy, sadness, disgust, and fear, to name just a few. (In the movie these five emotions are the leading cast of characters, even though emotions run a much wider gamut). Inside Out creates a visual model of the psyche so that young children can better understand how our brains are three-dimensional. This visual can be a jumping off point in helping children better identify different emotions, while developing a deeper understanding of how they can self-regulate their own emotions to be more effective communicators and problem solvers. Ultimately, though, the message that is most valuable for young viewers is that all emotions are valuable and serve a purpose and emotions are neither good nor bad, they are all just normal!

Building emotional awareness helps children better understand what they want and need and fosters healthy relationships. Having a greater emotional awareness can help children talk about feelings more clearly, avoid or resolve conflicts better, and move thorough difficult feelings with greater ease. These SEL skills prepare and prime children to excel in their social, academic, private, and eventual professional lives.

In this article we are going to provide you with tools to viewing this film together with your child and how you might use it as a means of broadening your child's understanding and ability to express her or his emotions in a positive, safe, and socially acceptable way.


  1. The Set-Up. First and foremost watching together is essential. Before watching the movie together you may want to tell your child a little about the story and some of the themes you want to highlight during your later conversations about the movie. (In Inside Out a few themes that are relevant to young children might be moving, starting at a new school, loss, disappointment, and making new friends.) Watching together will allow you to identify what moments really struck a chord for your child by viewing their emotional reactions and will provide you with a starting place to begin your conversations once you have seen the movie in its entirety.


  2. Listen and Reflect. As parents who are utilizing a movie such as Inside Out to teach about emotions we might naturally begin conversations with the themes and questions that we have in mind or have prepared. But it can be even more powerful to begin by simply listening to what our children's observations are first. By building on our children's interests and excitement we can engage them in deeper and more thoughtful conversations because they have taken a lead in the conversation. When your child shares a thought or opinion, even if you don't agree with it, it is important to reflect back what you have heard or paraphrase it before following up with a question, so they feel heard and thus will be more open to hearing what it is you will be sharing or asking. This might sound like, “Wow, it sounds like you thought the memory dump was a really scary place.” This will help your child feel heard and also help you to formulate deeper questions based on what was already relevant for your child.


  3. Ask Lots of Questions. After paying attention to what it is your child responds to in the movie, be sure to ask open-ended questions about the story, its characters, situations, and themes. Listen to how your child answers your questions and be sure to ask a follow-up question that refers to their answer. Feel free to ask questions during the movie that you can later reference when the movie is over. For example, “What do you think of (a certain character)” or “What do you think is going to happen next?” or “How do you think this is going to end?” After the movie you can then follow up with questions like “So after seeing how things ended, did you feel the same about (a certain character)?” or “Was there anything that surprised you about the ending?” When your child answers, you can always follow up with a “why?” if they don't share their reasoning. There is not a right or wrong time to have these conversations. Your child may need time to process what happened in the movie and formulate their opinions, so don't feel like you need to have these conversations right away. Really meaningful conversations often take place at bedtime, during car rides, or during meals. Take advantage of these moments when you have your child's undivided attention to process and ask questions about the movie you have watched together in the recent past.


Here is a sample discussion guide to the newly released Inside Out movie from Pixar/Disney:

  • What did you enjoy about this movie?
  • Who was your favorite character? What did you like most about him/her?
  • Do you remember the names of the different emotions and what they were? Can you make a face that represents that emotion? When might you feel this emotion?
  • What other emotions are there that you did not see in the movie? When might you feel these emotions?
  • What scene do you remember best? Why do you think that is?
  • What did the parents say or do when Riley was feeling sadness or anger? Did you like what they did or said? How do you think that made Riley feel? Is there anything you would have liked her parents to have done or said instead/as well?
  • How do you think Sadness made Bing Bong feel better? What did she do or say? Why do you think this made Bing Bong feel better?
  • Is sadness a bad feeling? Why or why not?
  • How do you think Joy felt when she realized that Sadness is an equally important emotion as Joy?
  • What do you normally do when you are feeling Angry? Sad? Fearful? Joyful? Disgusted?
  • What are some other things you can do or say when you are feeling Angry? Sad? Fearful? Joyful? Disgusted?
  • Who can you talk to when you are feeling Angry? Sad? Fearful? Disgusted?
  • Did you like the ending? Why or why not?
  • How might you feel about going to a new place for school?
  • How do you feel when you go to a familiar place?


WARNING: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against putting children aged 2 or younger in front of a screen. For children aged 3 and above it recommends no more than one to two hours of educational, nonviolent programing each day.