First swim meet of the season. Quite realistically one of the largest pools in the country. When the kids showed up for their warm-ups in the water, about half of the kids under ten (including our daughter Josephine) collapsed into tears. 50 meters long. 9 feet deep. Fear. Panic. And, from Josie a string of sniffling, "Mama please no. I can't. I know I can't." In moments like this, everything you think you know about being someone's mother bubbles to the surface and explodes into thin air leaving nothing but similar fear and panic. I knew she needed to just do it. I knew that I needed to tell her to just do it. I knew that through tears and pleading that she really did have it in her. Another parent I trust knew what I needed to hear at that moment too. So with an, "I love you," a, "Honey, you got this," and a, "It's hard to understand right now but this is a choice you get to make about how you want to live your life," I adjusted her goggles, kissed her swim cap and hoped I had done the right thing. Tonight she overcame fears and found out what she was made of. She jumped into 9 feet of water in a pool twice the length that she's used to and swam 50m of her most challenging stroke. She came away with a third place and two first place finishes. She struggled. She succeeded. And tonight at 11pm when she was finally getting to bed, she told us about how she could hear the crowd cheering for her. And, just before she closed her eyes, she thanked me.
I first shared this story on instagram a couple weeks ago. That was before we saw the Disney-Pixar movie Inside Out. While I wouldn't go back and change much about that life defining moment for both my daughter and for me that night at the pool, it sure would've been convenient if I had the lessons from Inside Out in my parenting toolbelt that night. Instead of letting fear "drive" either of us in that moment, we would've taken a breath, acknowledged what was happening up in "headquarters" and gone to bed that night talking about the new "core memory" that we formed together.
In the event that you haven't been on Facebook or Twitter, read the news, heard a podcast, seen an interview or had a conversation with a kid under 12 in the last week, here's the trailer for the film (that broke a Pixar record with a $90M opening weekend).
So what makes this film so special?
Maybe it's the fruits of Pixar's landmark process for inspiration and creativity. Maybe it's because it's Inside Out is one of the most educational-and simultaneously entertaining-films ever to hit the big screen. Maybe it's the star power of the cast. Or, just maybe, this film is such a hit because it resonates with parents and a growing movement that increasingly acknowledges the importance of social and emotional wellness-especially as it connects to learning.
A recent survey from NBC's Parent Toolkit using the Princeton Survey Research Associates International found that the majority of U.S. parents interviewed ranked social and communication skills as the most important to build success for school and life even beyond academic grades.
Parents are hungry for resources that help their kids with what experts would call Social Emotional Learning. Fortunately, there's a growing pool of resources for parents to support the social and emotional development of their kids. More than 3,000 titles come up in a search of the Amazon book store for children's books about emotions. One of our favorites is the WorryWoos series, a set of books and accompanying plush toys that do a stellar job of making emotions "tangible" for kids in a way that feels empowering to both parents and kids. We ordered Wince for our girls. He's the Monster of Worry who constantly feeds his WorryBug-only to find that as he worries more, the WorryBug continues to grow until he's totally overwhelmed by the emotion. Eventually, he learns to control it.
Movies like Inside Out and toys like the WorryWoos give kids and families the language to process difficult emotions by acknowledging the range of emotions that exist, and giving validity to all of them. "Uh oh, you're feeding your WorryBug," has been a way more effective parenting tool than the blanket and disempowering statement, "Stop worrying." There are also WorryWoos for loneliness, insecurity, frustration and more.
Inside Out has also given us an entirely new lexicon for talking about how we process emotions (and memories) in our family. Last week when our youngest tried to chuck the iPad across the room when she got the 2 minute warning with 12 minutes left on the video she wanted to watch, I sat her in my lap and told her to imagine the "Mad" character from Inside Out whose head exploded into a fiery volcano if his anger "erupted". "You're getting ready to explode, just like him, aren't you? You're so mad!" She said, "I AM mad!" and even just being able to name that emotion and have it validated by a parent was enough to prevent a major meltdown.
Really, it all comes down to a new way to think about social and emotional health, or really just thinking about and acknowledging our emotions at all.
"Stopping to think may not seem a priority in our fast-paced lives but it just may be one key to raising socially and emotionally intelligent children," author Jennifer Miller says in her contribution to the Smart Parents project, Parenting with Social and Emotional Learning. "There are numerous ways we can promote children's self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making." Watching a movie or reading a book together are just two of them.
I'm a huge advocate being intentional about creating and talking about learning and Inside Out provides a big opportunity to do that. Even though just about any movie is an opportunity to learn about something (even the feminist politics of Frozen), I promise you won't find a film that strikes the balance between education and entertainment as much as this does.
This blog is part of our Smart Parents series in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. For more information about the project, see Parents, Tell Your Story: How You Empower Student Learning as well as other blogs:
Carri Schneider is Director of Knowledge Design at Getting Smart. Find Carri on Twitter @CarriSchneider.