Inside Out {Movie Stretcher: Family Discussion Questions}

inside out

Loved it.

Like really loved it.

Unlike most Disney movies with orphans and princesses and villains and the like, the main character in this film is simply a little girl…with two parents….who moves across the country. The stress of her move—a stress that all of us can identify with in one way or another—sets off a series of events inside her emotional headquarters (where her key emotions are personified into cute little animated characters) that result in a profound lesson, one that ultimately leads to a control panel upgrade as she presses on in growing up.

The movie is for adults as much as for children. I’m kinda in love with it and am already planning out in my head which scenes I could play on my iPad in a therapy session.

While it’s all fresh in my head and I await when I can order the DVD, here are some discussion questions our family came up with tonight as we talked more about it.

Bookmark these questions or save an image of them on your phone. Go see the movie as a fam, and head out for milkshakes afterwards and discuss a few of these amongst yourselves. And, feel free to justify the ticket purchase price as family therapy.


  • Name Riley’s islands [Answers: Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, Friendship Island, Goofball Island]. What are some of the islands you might have? Can you guess what islands your mom or dad might have?
  • Riley’s Headquarters is staffed by Anger, Fear, Joy, Disgust, and Sadness. Which of those emotions do you think is most important for Riley? Why? How about for you? Why?
  • Be creative! Draw a picture of your Headquarters and the emotions that could be at your control center.
  • Joy explains that every emotion has a job. What is fear’s job? What can happen with too much fear or too little fear?
  • Riley isn’t aware of all that’s going on inside of her head although it drives her words and body language. Can you identify with that?
  • When Anger takes over your control panel, what does it look like for you in words and body language?
  • Why do you think Riley chose not to tell her parents what she was thinking and feeling? What good resulted when she was able to in the end?
  • Can you think of a time you felt two different emotions at the same time? Can you remember feeing scared and happy at the same time, for example? How about angry and sad?
  • Do you think Inside Out has a happy ending? Why or why not?
  • Share a memory you have that you really hope never goes to your “memory dump.”
  • What role might God play in Headquarters? Do you imagine Him as just another cute little character fighting over the controls, or do you imagine Him in a different role entirely? Explain!
  • Last but not least…sing a little song that keeps coming back to your Headquarters and see if you can get it stuck in everyone else’s!

Your permission slip

When I asked you how things were going, you started to cry. Through your tears, you told me how great your new son’s eye contact is, how he likes to be held, how he lets you know what he wants. You told me how everything is really so good, so much better than you were prepared for. But, you were still crying when you said that.

I imagine you were your social worker’s dream family. You dotted all your Is and crossed all your Ts. Not only was every form filled out completely and perfectly, but you didn’t fuss about any of the training required. You were your agency’s star student, soaking up every minute of every training with paper and pen in hand, taking notes lest you forget something. Every recommended book is now part of your library with broken bindings and yellow highlights throughout. You can channel your inner Dan Siegel and Karyn Purvis and explain the attachment cycle and define time-ins to any captive audience. You’re it—the well-prepared, ready-to-go adoptive mom equipped with a full holster of every attachment-building tool there is.

And, then you adopted your son.

You remind me a little of that friend we all have, the one who went to Lamaze classes or the like and somehow heard the message—or simply chose to hear it—that if you learn all the breathing tricks and positions that labor and delivery would be relatively painless, that somehow her own learned skills and oxygen-inhaling prowess would trump the reality of biology.

Yeah…it doesn’t that work that way.

Here’s what just happened. You and your husband, quite comfortable and relatively confident in your parenthood experience to the one biological child you already had, grew your family again. That’s always hard. And, since you did that through this incredible adventure of adoption, you multiplied that hard exponentially. While it’s normal for a mom to feel overwhelmed and tired and totally consumed by her new child who needs her all the time, you feel all that and your new child is not a sleepy infant and your child doesn’t understand English and you are scared to death that all the anxiety and growing sense of oxygen-inhaling failure on your part is going to break down whatever foundations of attachment have been built and that your adoption fund is going to be replaced by a therapy fund to pay for all the additional trauma you are going to bring into your child’s life.

{take a deep breath right about….now}

A look back at when we were just starting

A look back at when we were just starting

All those rules and tools you’ve studied and prepped for—the babywearing, the cosleeping, the skin-to-skin contact, the commitment to be the only one to meet his every need, the keeping him within several feet at all times, the cocooning, the intentional regression—they are not the end all; rather, they are the means to an end with that end being relationship. That’s the most important thing. If those good rules and tools are so binding to you right now that they are actually hindering relationship, you have the permission to step away from the books and the blogs and the webinars and experience freedom as the mother God’s called you to be to your son. It’s not forever, but for now, find what it is that you need whether that is grocery store runs sans anyone under 3 feet tall, a break to go have coffee with a friend one afternoon, going back to your weekly women’s group with a sitter in your friend’s basement, or something else entirely different. Find what it is that you need so that you can get on track with building a relationship with your son rather than falling into a pattern of going through the motions that you think you need to do but growing seeds in you of fear, questions, and resentment—all of which are enemies to relationship.

Friend, this is hard, yes. But, you can do hard; you were made for hard. You are exactly what your son and your daughter need right now—in your frailty, in your weakness, in your tears.

The post many have been asking for {update on Helen}

For months, any time I found to write was spent writing about them. It made sense really because they filled most of my days. The days they didn’t fill, they richly highlighted. They made things colorful. Interesting. And, I can honestly say that I anticipated that baby’s arrival almost as much as I anticipated that of my own children.

You may have felt the abruptness on this space, the hard stop to the words and pictures that gave a glimpse into their story. It’s a good reflection of the reality here really, the harsh abruptness to the fullness of our home as 10 became 6 again.

I appreciated my ever-growing to-do lists after April 21 when frank and Helen went home. My tasks helped to fill the gaps and the quiet that could have easily consumed me otherwise. All that the trip to China only a month later required was medicinal.

It was in a school cafeteria (the “canteen”) where we had a mini reunion. Helen swept the rubber door flaps to the side and pushed her very western double stroller through. Caleb rushed to us like a classic love story movie, arms outstretched. I believe Ashlyn literally squealed as she sat on the ground to catch him. After their embrace, he looked around and started to cry. He thought all four of our kids were coming to China.

Helen only came out of her 8th floor apartment one other time the whole time we were there. Grace is so young, and the sun behind the China haze dreadfully hot. It was hard to be right across the street from them, literally able to see their apartment from the classrooms where we were teaching and not be able to see more of them. Every afternoon during the few hours when we had a bit of a break, I walked over to be with them though it didn’t feel enough. Grace cried nearly every time I looked at her, making me limit the time I had to snuggle her like I used to and make photo shoots during naps. I think Helen felt bad about it. She assured me she’d recognize me soon. I assured her it was fine; stranger anxiety is normal.

Grace and Kelly in China - 1

Grace in China - 1

Our goodbyes were quick. It was easier that way. Still feeling the weight of the drawn-out goodbyes a month earlier in Newark airport and for the few days leading up to that moment, fast worked for me this time, particularly with the audience of students around us who had no idea of the way our lives have become interwoven. I needed deep breaths and self-talk, but I didn’t cry this time.

Helen and Kelly - 1

They’re doing well; they really are. Their families weren’t upset about the baby news that they received when they returned to China. Instead, one set of grandparents jumped right on to a bus for 13 hours when they heard there was a new grand baby and stayed for over a week, making all sorts of interesting “healthy food” for the new mother while they were there.

Grace with granddad

They are safe. There aren’t any problems for them right now. And while that large fine for having a second child is looming, they can delay paying it until it becomes absolutely necessary to utilize benefits of the state (like when it’s time to start going to school). Until then, they are able to use her U.S. passport to do things like purchase train tickets which is essential to life in China. For now, they can live without fear and simply enjoy being a family of four.

照片 2

Grace is so big already.


Sometimes I still just smile and shake my head in awe of all that has transpired over this last year. It hits me at odd moments—hearing a song Caleb liked, seeing the electric kettle that still sits on our kitchen counter, shopping for groceries and passing some random item I know one of them liked, driving with an empty passenger seat next to me.

God grew our family this year. Our home may be down to only 6 now, but our family is bigger. Daily life looks way different now than it did a few months ago, but the definition of our family is not changing.

In his own words {advocating}

in school

in school with one friend

in school with friends
I shared about him on this space a few days ago, the boy in the blue who t-shirt right there with his friends from school. Actually, I didn’t just share about him; I advocated for him, praying that there is a family out there for him open to adopting a 13-year-old boy whose heart aches for a family.

Now, I’m doing something a bit unconventional. I’m literally sharing my space with him, giving him the opportunity to share himself in hopes that through seeing his penned words–even in a language we cannot understand–the mother God has for him would feel the tug on her heart and hear the words, “You can do this; you can be what he needs.”

his letter

My name is ______ _______. I’m 13 years old. I study in a special education school in ____. I’m in Grade 4. I have many good friends in school, and my school life is full of happiness. I have a good friend named ______ _______ who has a sweet and happy family. I also want to have a warm family like him. In the foster family in the welfare house, under the care of my foster mom and dad, I have a happy life. The ayis in the welfare house love me 100x more. I think I should work hard to pay them back when I grow up. I will have a final exam soon. My favorite subject is math, and I can get more than a score of 90 on my math exams. My dream is to be a mathematician and creating miracles is the pursuit of learning for me. I’m very grateful for my mom, dad, ayis, and teachers. I thank them for giving me a beautiful and happy childhood.

He’s loved well, but he wants more. He wants someone who he can call his–a warm family like his friend has.

Are you the one to mentor and shepherd this child?

He needs a family willing willing to move fast to beat the January deadline the law has in place that will make him no longer eligible to be a son. He’s on the shared list now which means any adoption agency working with China’s special needs program can lock his file for a family, even if they have not started any paperwork yet. Want more information? I’ve got his file which I am guarding for his protection and that of his future family, believing they are out there. But, I will do my best to answer any questions I can. Email [email protected]

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