As neither a modern day animation aficionado or parent/aunt to a young child, most of the recent cartoon movies have passed me by. But Disney Pixar’s "Inside Out" caught my eye.
It’s the story of Riley, an 11-year-old girl uprooted from her childhood home in Minnesota and moved across country to San Francisco for her dad’s work. We meet all of her childhood emotions that occupy the HQ space in her brain – Anger, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Joy – as characters in their own right. We watch as they mold and manipulate her in response to daily life. On one level, it’s a fun take on how we think. But on a deeper level, it’s a reflection of our experiences supporting families on the move at intercultural training sessions.
A conflict of emotions
Riley hates her new home in San Francisco – not just because it’s a bit of a mess but because it’s unfamiliar. It also has none of her belongings. Everything looks, sounds, smells and tastes different but she gamely soldiers on as Joy tells her to “find the fun!”
As she embarks upon her first day of school and first ice hockey practice, memories of home start to become tinged with Sadness. This is normal for children moving to a new city or country. Like Riley, they will start to feel disconnected from their old life long before they connect with their new one. As Anger puts it, “everything was fine until mom and dad decided to move!” By now they feel out of control and as if life has just happened to them, – and so Sadness can take control.
The Islands of Personality
"The Islands of Personality" is a really interesting concept in the movie. These are core memories that have shaped Riley into the young person that she is. They are based on things that are important to her, like hockey – and values that are important to society, like family and honesty. As I watched Riley lose connection with her islands, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between this and culture shock – something every assignee (young and old) goes through as they struggle to adapt to their new host location. It’s as if nothing makes sense – from Riley not making it on the hockey team through to the argument between her and her parents.
Happily ever after
What happens in the end, though, is delightful. After rallying from the Sadness, she opens up to new opportunities with childlike Joy. As she makes new friends and shares new adventures with her family, her islands are rebuilt bigger and better than before. Positive proof that an international (or domestic) move can be an enriching experience for children.
Making way for Joy
There are things that we can take from this outstanding film that can really help to support children in the daunting task of leaving their friends and family behind.
- Involve your children in decisions to move as soon as possible.
- Go on a home finding trip together so everything isn’t brand new and they are part of the decision. It might not be possible on an international move but a FaceTime or Skype call will allow them to see their new room and plan how to decorate it.
- Have a plan of things to do, see and achieve to create a life – better yet, make the plan before you leave to create excitement and so that you have a list at hand when the first wave of homesickness hits.
- Look for activities from home that can be continued in the new city – even better if they are run by the school to help the children fit in as soon as possible.
- Create opportunities for children to stay connected with friends back home. Even though life is moving on without them there, it’s important to keep the door open ready for when you all go back home.
- It’s OK to be sad – it’s a natural part of the adjustment process.
- Live happily ever after and … find the fun!