I went to see Disney’s “Moana” with my daughter and some friends last week. It was fun, exciting, and entertaining as most Disney movies are, but this story stood out to me. Here’s why.
At the end of the movie (SPOILER ALERT), Moana and her demigod companion, Maui, while on their quest to give back the mystical heart to the goddess of the island Te Fiti, encounter a terrifying lava monster who they believe is preventing them from fulfilling their mission.
First, they try to fight the monster, but to no avail—the monster only grows angrier. Soon, Moana discovers that the terrifying monster is actually the goddess of the island Te Fiti herself, who has turned into a fierce lava monster because she has lost her heart.
Armed with this realization, she does something completely counterintuitive, yet incredibly powerful and effective: She stands strong, calm, and unafraid, and tells the monster that she knows who it truly is.
This act of kindness calms the monster, and inspires it to move towards Moana to reclaim its heart, thereby transforming back into the loving island of Te Fiti.
As I held my scared daughter on my lap, I was blown away by how perfectly this final scene serves as a metaphor for parenting. In our daily lives, our children will inevitably explode with anger. They will become irrational, fierce, and (sometimes) completely lose control—just like the lava monster.
When this happens, we have an important choice about how we respond to them when they have “lost their hearts,” so to speak. We can respond with fear, by withholding love, by fighting back, or trying to “put them in their place,” all in a futile attempt to stop their emotional “lava.” As you can guess, none of these strategies ultimately work in these most desperate moments, and certainly not in the long run.
Just like in the movie, these tactics will cause our children’s “lava” to grow bigger and fiercer, and we will feel defeated, exhausted, and most importantly, we will be unable to find common ground with our children.
Instead, our children need us to make the most unlikely move, and understand that their anger is a cry for help. They need us to be like Moana: grounded, unafraid, loving, and empathic.
When they yell horrible words, attempt to hurt us, or just lose themselves completely, this must signal to us that they need our strength and empathy the most. They need us to believe in who they really are, and take a stand for them when they can’t for themselves.
We all have a monster inside us who can rear its ugly head when we feel threatened, tired, hungry, or are simply having a hard day. We must see underneath our children’s “monster” selves, and understand what is happening inside them. When our children are behaving the worst, perhaps they have “lost their hearts,” and they need us to return it to them.
So, the next time my daughter has a total meltdown, I will try to remember this powerful scene, and think to myself, What Would Moana Do? And if that doesn’t work, maybe I’ll try a musical number—that might work, too.