Children’s Films Provide Important Life Lessons

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By UB’s Brittany Billingslea, LCPC

Need a mental health pick-me-up? Watch a movie!

These days, if we are looking for reminders about unconditional love and respect, as well as the importance of taking care of each other and ourselves, look no further than the latest kids films. Not only can several positive messages and techniques for improving self-care be found in children’s movies, but they can also serve as a much-needed mental break from your busy schedule.

Whether you watch these films alone, or with your kids, pay attention to some of the lessons throughout the movie, as they may apply to challenges you are facing in your own life. Here are two ways to de-stress with a kid’s movie:

  1. Use it as an opportunity to focus on staying present and enjoy what’s happening around you! Kid’s movies are usually full of bright, vibrant colors as well as a great soundtrack. Try and focus on identifying where the movie is taking place based on the weather, the music, and some of the imagery in the colors.
  2. This could be a wonderful opportunity for a distraction — try to focus all your thoughts and energy on the characters and central themes of the movie.

Let’s take a look at some of the most recently popular Disney films and the important messages they promote:

Frozen

The main character, Elsa, shares her message loud and proud: LET IT GO. One of the most important cornerstones of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), an evidenced-based model that encourages experiencing one’s emotions without acting on them, is called Radical Acceptance. Both the message in the song Let it Go, as well as the plot of the movie, provide a wonderful example of how you can learn to cope with what you cannot change, and instead shift your focus to changing what is still within your control. It can be easy to forget that small changes within our own personal limits can lead to long-term bigger changes.

Inside Out

Hello Emotion Regulation! This is another film that captures one of DBT’s most essential themes. Emotional Regulation is a process that involves managing one’s emotions so s/he can experience them without immediately reacting in ways that may cause unwanted or negative results. The movie does a nice job of giving voice to each emotion, so we can learn to acknowledge and make room for all of our various emotions – even the ones that are difficult to experience such as sadness and grief, anger, fear, disgust and guilt. In challenging times, we can all use a reminder about how our negative emotions serve us. Without negative emotions, we wouldn’t be able to fully experience and appreciate the positive ones, such as joy and peace. Inside Out is an excellent reminder for the importance of acknowledging our feelings without acting on our emotions.

Finding Nemo

Need more DBT? Try watching Finding Nemo. This movie’s infamous mantra is, Just Keep Swimming. Finding Nemo is highly entertaining and funny, coupled with the life lesson of resilience through faith, family and self-love. Some of the major themes in the this film are about the importance of distress tolerance, or the ways in which we are able to better cope with stressors, like say with the help of loved ones and riding the waves in life. In other words, life has ups and downs, but it’s important to Just Keep Swimming to get where we want to go in life.

Big Hero 6 and Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Both of these films emphasize the power of reaching out to friends and other supports, including our pets and other animals. These two are excellent examples of Opposite Emotion, a skill where the focus is on behaving the way one would like to feel, as opposed to behaving in a way that may further prolong a low mood. For example, if you’re feeling lonely, the remedy is to engage in social activities or schedule some one on one time with a friend, instead of being on our own. Both movies also remind us of the power of pet therapy and that we can learn so many lessons about life, love, kindness, and respect from the animals, our pets and the communities in which we live.