Getting All Emotional: Part 2

By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Curriculum Specialist

Woodland Hills Church

This past weekend, Disney and Pixar’s newest film, Inside-Out hit movie screens across the country. I went to see it for purely research purposes. Okay, that’s not true. My seeing it had almost nothing to do with research – I just really wanted to see it. And I wasn’t disappointed. Though perhaps a bit complicated for preschoolers to follow, Inside-Out is a fantastic movie for elementary kids as well as teens and adults. In fact, I’d venture to say the folks at Pixar made this film very much with adults in mind (pun intended). Exhibit A: Check out the scene featured in this trailer:

We see the various emotions of Mom, Dad, and Riley all in action. Unfortunately, they’re not all on the same page. Something has caused Riley’s emotions to get worked up, and at dinner, she becomes easily agitated and angry. Mom’s emotions are frustrated with Dad, whose emotions have been focused elsewhere and don’t see the situation as she does. And Dad, well, rather than getting to the heart of what’s really bothering Riley, let’s his emotions escalate alongside Riley’s. By the end of the scene, both Riley and Dad are triggered (see part one of this article from two weeks ago), and Mom is frustrated…again.

Sound familiar? It’s the kind of scene that plays out all too often in our daily lives. Someone says or does something, emotions escalate, and the results are less than pretty. It happens to us all – Parents and kids, married people and singles, men and women, old and young, etc. As a parent, one of the most helpful things you can do when emotions like anger, sadness, and fear pop up with your kids is to try to help them figure out the root cause of their emotion. As I stated in my article two weeks ago, emotions are like lights on our mind’s dashboard – They let us know something has happened and needs to be addressed. There’s something going on behind your child’s emotional outburst, and that’s what really needs to be worked out.

Emotions like anger, fear, and sadness kick into gear when we perceive danger, injustice, or loss. So when your five year old melts down because his brother “got a bigger slice of cake,” it’s not really about the cake. He hasn’t received what he hoped for and expected, which was an equal cut of the cake, and that feels like a loss and an injustice. Because kids’ brains haven’t developed to be able to really weed out yet what is really worth fighting over and what isn’t, they have a hard time not feeling like such an event is the end of their world. To them, the injustice feels real and threatening. Similarly, when your child’s favorite stuffed animal vanishes and she refuses to go to sleep without it, it’s not so much about her inability to sleep without the specific toy as it is she’s feeling fear and loss for something she cares about and worrying she won’t get it back.

So what can you do to help them it work out? Talk with them. Once you get them back to a rational state of mind (again, see my previous article), you can start asking questions. “You were really sad when Molly took your doll. What felt sad about that?” “I know you’re angry at me for saying you need to get ready for soccer instead of playing video games. Can you tell me what about having to switch those activities makes you feel mad?” Throughout the dialogue, you can work your way back to the root issue and remind them that, no matter what, they are loved. They are safe. They are secure. They have what they need. They are not alone. And in the course of the discussion, you’ll also be creating a kind of “vocabulary” your family can use for future situations. “I know you’re upset now, but remember when you didn’t want to share your doll with Molly? You were angry then, too. Do you feel now like you did then?” And, hopefully, with time, such dialogues will become a natural part of your family’s way of speaking, paving the way for healthy discussions versus emotional outbursts and confusion.

Of course, it’s always good to keep in mind that tiredness/lack of sleep, hunger, dehydration, and not enough healthy foods in a kids’ diet can also contribute to and aggravate emotions. If you think your child’s angry meltdown might have something to do with tiredness, try to get him or her to nap or rest with a quiet activity before dialoguing what happened. If it could be hunger, get him or her a healthy snack to munch on while you talk. You might even want to join them in the snack or nap. After all, none of us think straight when on an empty stomach and tired.

For more on Inside-Out and what folks are saying about it as both a family-friendly movie and a tool for families to use in working through emotions, check out these articles:

Father’s Day Without Dad


By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

I can recall exactly how many years it has been since my dad died. Why? I’m glad you asked. A couple years before my son was born, my dad crashed his motorcycle after trying to avoid hitting a dog in the road. It resulted in a broken clavicle and a totaled motorcycle. While in the hospital, the doctors realized my dad had a lump between his esophagus and stomach. He had dealt with issues related to acid reflex and struggled with swallowing certain foods for a while, but no one had ever found a source. While he was glad to find the problem, the solution was not very appealing, either. He had a chunk of his esophagus removed and underwent chemo and radiation therapy. After several long months of recovery, he was cleared of cancer and working again. Fast forward almost a year later, and symptoms returned. Once again, cancer was discovered, but this time it had spread. The treatment was not successful the second time around, and by Christmas, the doctors suggested hospice for him. Meanwhile, my wife and I had begun the adoption process and received a call from a social worker wanting to find a loving home for a new baby. We quickly packed up and traveled to Tennessee to meet our new little one. In the midst of this amazing week, my mom asked us to travel home and be with Dad. I helped set up hospice care for him, and, once he was settled, we introduced him to our son. He expressed his happiness for us with a few words and a desire to have his picture taken with his only grandson. I believe this picture was a way of passing on a little bit of himself to my son. After taking my wife and new baby home, I returned to the home of my parents. A few hours later, I watched my dad take his last breath while surrounded by family and friends. I believe he was just waiting for my return before leaving permanently. But in the midst of suffering and death, there was joy and new life.

Grief affects everyone, yet we don’t all grieve the same way or on the same timetable as others. My young family and new baby distracted me during a time when my siblings and mom were struggling. It wasn’t until 6 months later, Father’s Day, that I realized I didn’t have a dad to honor anymore. As my kids celebrated their dad, I was overwhelmed with the sadness of knowing my dad was gone and they had lost a grandpa.

Father’s Day can be a time of sadness for children and adults alike. Being reminded year after year that your dad is no longer a part of your life is painful, whether he left, remarried, is deployed, or passed away. This pain is expressed in different ways depending on a number of factors, including age.

So, how do we help kids deal with a missing dad on Father’s Day? I wish it was a simple step-by-step system, but it doesn’t work that way. What we can do is be sensitive, compassionate, available to listen, and a voice of encouragement. We can encourage children to express their feelings of loss and help them give voice to all the things they miss about their dad. Tell them stories about their dad and his love for his little ones. Share memories of their experiences together and celebrate all the ways that he was a good dad. If their dad has never been in the picture, then introduce your child to our Heavenly Father. He is a dad that never fails, never stops loving, is always present, always faithful, always trustworthy, and His love is unconditional, sacrificial, and provides life.

Not having a father on Father’s Day hurts. It doesn’t matter if you’ve lost a good dad or never known him – your pain is real and valid. Grief is necessary and healthy. Honoring the memory of your dad when possible and immersing yourself in the love of our Heavenly Father provides a way to transition from grief to peace, from pain to healing, and from focusing on death to honoring life.

Getting All Emotional: Part 1

By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Curriculum Specialist

Woodland Hills Church

I don’t know about you, but I’m a BIG Pixar fan, and I’m super excited for their newest movie coming out June 19.  As usual, it looks to have all the trademark Pixar humor, great animation, and, of course, the perfect tug on the heartstrings.

Pixar’s story follows the adventures of various emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger) belonging to a young girl named Riley. It looks to be a movie families can both enjoy together and use as a great discussion-starter. After all, as I’m sure you know, kids have strong emotions. One minute, they’re happy and laughing with their friends, and the next, well, you’ve got a five-alarm meltdown in progress. Why does that happen, and how do you help your child work back to emotional stability when he or she can hardly breathe between fits of tears?

Emotions are tricky things. They feel very real. A co-worker once likened our emotions to lights on a dashboard – They alert us to changes in our situation, for better or for worse. And, in the case of worse, our brains are wired to trigger. Triggering means the brain’s the fight-or-flight response kicks into gear to shut down the rational side of the brain and begin telling the body what to do. It all happens in less than a second.   Which is great if you’re out hiking when a boulder crashes down a hillside and your flight-or-fight’s quick response saves your life by moving you out of harm’s way. On the other hand, having your brain trigger when you find your child drawing with red marker on the walls is not as helpful. We tend when triggered to say or do things we later regret. It’s the same with kids, but as their brains are not as well developed yet, they have a harder time reigning in that fight-or-flight response.

Even though emotions feel very real, they’re not always in tune with reality. Thus, your child’s desire for that candy bar in the Target check-out line does feel like the end of the world to them. Thankfully, there are ways to help them calm down. One way to help get them on the road to cool down is to validate their emotions when possible. They need to know you are listening and understand what they’re feeling even if you don’t agree. If your child is old enough, ask him or her what he or she is feeling. Try to work out together why those feelings might be coming up. Remind him or her that it’s okay to feel angry or sad or fearful but that acting in hurtful ways toward others or refusing to listen and obey is not okay. Even when your child seems unnecessarily upset (as with the candy bar in the check-out line), you can still let him or her know you understand why he or she would feel that way while still letting making it known the situation isn’t going to change: “I can see that not getting what you want right now makes you feel angry and upset. I feel upset sometimes, too, but we need to make healthy choices, and that candy bar is not a healthy choice right now.” They need someone to recognize they’re not okay and that something in their brain has negatively triggered. They need to feel heard and affirmed that what they feel matters. They may still fuss and be upset, but at least you’ve shown them you’re listening. Hopefully, the validation of their emotions will help them begin to calm down enough that you can guide them beyond the emotion and back to rational thinking.

Because triggering causes a rush of adrenaline and other chemicals in the body that can last for 20 minutes, you may want to provide your child some space to cool down before trying to get rational. A time out or employing a quiet activity to do can give the time and space he or she needs to calm down enough to be able to listen without his or her emotional state getting in the way. You could even try having the child draw out what he or she is feeling and then talk about it.

Here are few excellent resources we’ve read on helping kids walk through their emotions:

  • Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay
  • No: Why Kids – of All Ages – Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It by Dr. David Walsh, PhD
  • Why Do They Act That Way?: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen by Dr. David Walsh, PhD
  • The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

Staff Bio: Mary Van Sickle

By Paula Bowlby, Associate Early Childhood Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Mary bio pic

It’s been awhile since we have done a staff bio. This time we are featuring Mary VanSickle, our Family Pastor. Mary has been on staff for 20 years – Can you believe it? I chose this picture of Mary because of her joy and enthusiasm for life. She is fun and amazing to work with. I asked Mary a few questions about herself, and her answers are below. Enjoy!

Tell us a bit about your work at WHC:

I have loved being on staff for over 20 years.  I have had many different jobs, but my favorite will always be Children’s Ministry Pastor.  I have loved working with the children and their families over the years.  My favorite is seeing the children start in our ministry at Baby Dedication when they are born, then, years later, watching them get trained in as Student Helpers after 12-13 years in our ministry.  Seeing them grow and develop in both body and spirit is the best.  I have the greatest job in the world!

What would your dream vacation be?

Dream vacation is with the family to Sanibel Island.  This was a favorite when the kids were growing up.  Now that is it my husband and I, I would love to go with him to Haiti.

What is something that few people know about you?

I love to white-water raft when I am in Colorado.  My 16 year old daughter and I drove all 19 hours last summer to white-water raft…so fun!

What would you do if you won a million dollars?

With a million dollars I would take my whole family to Disney World.  With anything extra I would buy new carpet for the church.

What do you enjoy about working at Woodland Hills?

I love seeing the children come in excited and ready to experience fun and different things.  When the kids pull their parents down the hall because they are excited to see Paco or hear one of our fun lessons, that puts a smile on my face.