By Mackenzie Smith – This past weekend, my relationship with my daughter was forever changed by a MOVIE! Wait… WHAT?!? Yep, you read that right. My relationship with my incredibly smart and spunky 3.5 year old daughter has been forever changed by Disney Pixar’s Inside Out!!!

I decided to take my daughter to her first movie this past weekend, even though she is only 3.5 years old. She has been having a hard time explaining her ‘motions (as Nat says it) to her teachers and friends at daycare. My daughter has AMAZING vocabulary skills according to her teachers, however, despite her expansive vocabulary, she was acting out aggressively because she was having trouble expressing her emotions. In Nat’s world, hitting, kicking, or spitting at her friends and teachers was a much more effective way to get them to talk to her than actually using words.

“I walked out of the theater with a new way to talk to my daughter about her emotions, and a new way to help families talk to each other.”

We enter the theater, popcorn and soda in hand, not sure what to expect other than it being a Disney film. However, what we saw on the screen was totally unexpected. If Toy Story put Pixar on the map then Inside Out just BLEW IT INTO THE STRATOSPHERE!!! Disney Pixar has truly raised the bar with Inside Out for children’s movies. Inside Out provides a forum to address often stigmatized and pushed aside emotions (HELLO, Circle of Sadness!!), and completely normalizes them.

This makes Inside Out a COMPLETE game changer in terms of communicating with your child (or an adult) about their emotions. Disney Pixar took one of THE most complex things to try to understand and explain to adults, much less YOUNG children, and NAILED IT!!! How do I know? Well, because the next morning, Nat got up complaining of a stomach ache (as per usual on Monday mornings).


On the way to daycare, I asked her if “Fear” (a character in the movie) was at her control panel making her stomach hurt. She IMMEDIATELY understood EXACTLY what I was asking and replied, “No, momma. ‘Sadness’ is at my control panel making my tummy hurt because I want to stay with you.” Inside Out gave her a way to externalize her feelings and use an easy to understand language to discuss and explore how she was feeling that we had never had before. Gone are the days of “I feel… because…” Inside Out shows that just because you feel one way doesn’t mean you know exactly why you feel that way, which is why communicating feelings to others is so complicated (especially in Couples Therapy).

Externalizing emotions is not a new concept for me, it’s just really hard to execute when it’s your own child. I have done this technique with many clients in various ways to help them separate and understand each individual emotion so that they are better able to identify, name and get control of whatever emotion was causing them problems (in my practice, it was typically anger or anxiety) with great success. Unfortunately, that success sometimes didn’t translate at home easily, simply because the family didn’t understand the language that their child and I had created to discuss their emotions (even if explained during the session).

Now if I were working with those same families, I would absolutely make watching Inside Out A FAMILY PART of their therapeutic homework, complete with a worksheet for the client and their family to identify and name their emotions, give them personalities, decide what they look like, etc. In fact, I am willing to say that for those who are willing to see beyond the surface of this movie, Inside Out completely changes the game in mental health therapy. Parents now have a tool to talk to their children about a complex subject matter that removes the stigma associated with emotions, normalizes feelings, and shows, in a fun and light way, that WE ALL (girls AND boys) have complex emotions.


I walked into Inside Out expecting to spend a couple of hours having fun with my daughter after she had a few days of good reports from daycare the previous week. Instead, I walked out with a new way to talk to my daughter about her emotions, and a new way to help FAMILIES talk to each other. Hopefully as she grows up, she and I will continue to be able to talk about the complexity of the emotions she is experiencing by way of a mutually beloved movie. Being iced out during those trying times makes “Fear” want to take over my control panel and there is just no telling what he will do!

From the bottom of my heart, I say “Thank you” to Disney Pixar for giving my daughter and I the opportunity to be able to communicate on a level that we both can understand.

About The Author

Mackenzie_Smith_bioMackenzie Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in North Carolina, a wife, and a mom sharing her love of all things crafty with her two little ones. She is currently working in the Mental Health Field assisting those with Severe and Persistent Mental Illness move back into the community from an institutional setting. You can follow along with Mackenzie’s crafty ventures and get creative ways to improve your relationships at her blog Crafty Bonds, or you can catch her hanging out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.