What we can learn about sadness from ‘Inside Out’
A Child Life specialist and why it’s Ok to embrace sadness
As a general rule, we try to avoid sadness. Nobody enjoys feeling sad and we are often uncomfortable when those around us are sad. We try to change the way they feel; make them happy, make them laugh. It can be uncomfortable to be around sadness.
“Inside Out,” the new hit movie, helps us to understand, however, that sadness is just as important to our world and our perceptions, as joy and anger and all of the other emotions we encounter as human beings. We cannot pretend that sadness isn’t there. We cannot ignore it and hope it will go away. There is a reason for our sadness and if we don’t experience that feeling, it gets stuck inside where it grows and festers and can then prevent our other feelings from being realized.
We’ve heard the idea that we can’t know true joy without having known sorrow. The point in the movie where things change is when Riley’s parents stop and listen to her feelings. Riley tells her parents that she misses her old home and she wants to be with her old friends. Nobody is trying to change the way Riley feels. Nobody is trying, including Riley, to cover up her sadness with something else. Riley is allowing herself to feel the sadness and her parents are there with her, allowing her to feel. They are supporting her feelings and are listening to her.
As parents, we want our children to be happy. We want to protect them from pain. Unfortunately, that isn’t always possible. Once we understand that our children must go through pain and sadness, our job is to be there for them in those times.
We must allow those feelings to be experienced and we will likely experience the same feelings with them. Sometimes children (and adults too!) can’t put words to what they feel, but luckily words aren’t always necessary. As parents, we need to realize that at times silence is better. Don’t try to solve the pain. Don’t try to “make it better.”
As hard as it may be, let it happen.
As kids experience their feelings, they will begin to heal. Ask your child what they’re feeling and let them find their own way to tell you. They may not want to talk, so just be there. Hug them. Sit quietly with them and make sure they know you are willing to be by their side no matter what they are feeling. When they do talk about it, validate them. Tell them that it is okay to be sad, or angry, or confused. They need to know that whatever they are feeling is okay; it isn't wrong.
Here are a few examples of validating language that you can use:
“That sounds like it is really hard for you.”
“I can see that ___________ made you feel __________.” (Use their words for these blanks)
“I’m guessing you might have felt ______________ when _______________happened.” (When they aren’t providing you with answers of their own.)
Try to avoid these phrases/comments which invalidate someone:
“It’s not that big of a deal.”
“Don’t worry about it, you’re going to be fine!”
“You’ve got to be a big boy/girl, we’re not going to cry.”
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About the author
Shea Ingram is a music therapist at Cook Children's. At Cook Children's, music provides a creative intervention for children and young adults individually or in a small group format. It allows our young patients an outlet for the physical and emotional challenges they face in their lives.Music as an outlet and/or therapy aids communication and can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. Research supports music effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people's motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for patients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings.