Disney’s Turning Red

Last night we watched the new Disney movie Turning Red. This movie follows Meilin as she navigates adolescence, and reconciles becoming her own person vs what her mother expects her to be. Every time she loses control of her emotions, she turns into a giant Red Panda.

Initially my kids didn’t seem interested. Since it was during our “Digital Detox” ,they agreed just so they could watch a movie (the irony is not escaping me). I actually loved it, and my kids begrudgingly admitted it was good.

It was also fun for us because it is based in Toronto (Canada) which is close to where we live. Despite many being filmed here, we’re not used to mainstream shows and movies being based in Canada.

Emotional Rollercoaster

If you have a tween or teen living in your house, or can remember being a teen, the metaphor of becoming an animal when emotions take over is probably not escaping you. Teens have little control over their emotions, and it is just as frustrating for them as it is for us as adults.

Adolescents and teens have so much happening that they have no control over. Their bodies are changing, their hormones and emotions are all over the place. They have to navigate friendships and social hierarchies with people who are going through all the same irrational emotions and behaviours! Add in family dynamics and rules and it can be really overwhelming – for everyone involved!

Meme about teenage daughter turning out just like me "well played karma, well played"

I can remember being horrible to my parents and siblings. Often I was so overwhelmed in the moment I couldn’t see I was being unreasonable. Sometimes I could see it but I couldn’t stop myself! As Meilin’s mom would say, I used to “Red Panda all over the place”. Its like your emotions are this beast and your logical thinking is just along for the ride, hanging on for dear life!

Science of the Teen Brain

The irrationality of teens can be so frustrating. It can be difficult to keep your cool as an adult as well. You may think they are just being selfish and inconsiderate, but most of the time they really don’t have the awareness to know how their behaviour is affecting anyone else. We now know that the human brain is never really finished growing and developing, but the common consensus is that it finishes its period of adolescence at around 25. Crazy right? I had my first child at 26!

Until that age, the prefrontal cortex, which allows us to process consequences, think about the future, and make positive, logical decisions, is not really structurally developed yet. At the same time there is greater activation in the emotion centres of the brain. This leads to all that crazy, emotional, irrational, illogical behaviour we associate (or experience) with adolescents and teens. If you want to read more about the evolutionary advantages of this, check out this article from the University of California.

Meme showing mannequin with shoulders slumped and pouting with headline "Oh look, they've started making teenager mannequins"

How can we help kids manage emotions?

So how can we help kids manage these emotions? In Turning Red, Meilin has to take calming breaths, or imagine positive comments from her supportive friends to calm herself down and return to her human body. The more she practices doing this, the more easily she can switch back and forth between her panda and human bodies.

This is true for our emotions as well. The more we practice calming techniques, gratitude, and self awareness, the more easily we are able to switch our bodies and minds from stress and negativity to calm and awareness.

Practicing these skills with our children not only helps them to gain the skills they need for self management, it helps us as parents build and practice those skills as well. Often when things start to get out of control, it is not just the situation at hand that is creating the reaction.

For instance, if you are in an argument with your child about them not being able to go somewhere, you may feel it’s not a big deal and their reaction is unreasonable. However, they may be feeling a whole host of other things like social pressures, feelings of not fitting in or worries about being left out if they miss this event.

As adults of course we have the perspective to know that one event will not make or break their entire middle or high school social life. However, for them it feels very real, and those feelings are valid.

As adults, it can be difficult to have empathy for our children in these moments because of the things we are dealing with in our own lives. Work stress, lack of sleep, or feelings of parental inadequacy can effect our reactions. It can feel like your child’s life is easy in comparison to yours and they are being ungrateful. Just like our children, those additional emotions make it difficult for us to keep our cool in these moments.

Incorporating Mindfulness and Social Emotional Learning


Mindfulness is not some deep concept that takes years to master. It is simply the act of noticing and becoming aware. That’s it. Easy. You can mindfully do anything! You can be mindful while washing the dishes. Notice how the water feels, the steam rising up from the water, the sensations in your body as you are washing and rinsing.

Mindfulness does not have to mean sitting like a “zen” Monk with no thoughts in your head (although it can also be that). Sitting mindfully means noticing what is happening, or what thoughts come into our head, and then letting them go rather than focusing on them. This can be difficult and take time. Some days feel easy, others feel like you have a million thoughts. Often I get my best ideas or work out an awesome solution to a problem when I am trying to meditate so, I consider it a win either way!

Meme: Not thinking of you - Zen Birthday Card

What mindfulness does is allow us to tap into what is going on around us, and in our bodies and brains. This self awareness is the basis of all social emotional learning. Social emotional learning is now being taught in schools as part of the curriculum to foster healthy development of children.

Social Emotional Learning

There are 5 pillars of social emotional learning that are important for children (and adults) to be confident and happy. These are self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness.

CASEL wheel of emotions. Fundamentals of Social Emotional Learning in schools, families, and communities.

This is CASEL’s “wheel” of the fundamentals of social emotional learning. To learn more about SEL or to use the interactive wheel, click here.

We can enhance this learning at home and go beyond what is applicable in school. We can help our children recognize and manage their emotions and behaviours, foster healthy relationships, and grow to be confident, happy humans.

Many of the skills we gain through yoga and mindfulness help support development of these skills in ourselves and our children. Easy ways to do this at home include:


Younger kids are generally quite open to mindfulness and breathing techniques, but get bored very quickly. In kids’ yoga classes, I teach a breathing technique and the rest of the breath work is practiced through games to keep it fun. I use discussions to engage the kids to think of ways they can use the techniques learned to solve problems on their own.

A really popular game we play is “breath golf”. Take a cup and have some light objects of different weights such as a ping pong ball, a cotton ball, a feather – pretty much whatever you can find around the house that is not too heavy. Kids have to use their breath to blow the object along the floor and into the turned over cup – no hands allowed! They do lots of long deep breaths without even realizing it.

Another option is to have a stuffy on their tummy while they do their “belly breath”. They take long deep breaths to fill up their tummy like a balloon and watch their stuffy rise up as they inhale, and sink down as they exhale.

In each of the games, take a moment before to sit and tell your kids to notice how their body feels. Do it again after you are done the game so they can feel the difference.

Journals and Worksheets

Adolescents will sometimes play games, and sometimes think they are lame. It really depends on the day. Teens are usually not going to go for games. I find things like worksheets and journals work better for them. While these don’t necessarily help them to calm down when they are getting overwhelmed, they do help them to gain perspective and generate a positive attitude, preventing overwhelm.

Adolescents and teens often have a hard time sitting with their thoughts, even though it is important. Kids and teens turn to electronics so they don’t have to be bored, or sit with some of the uncomfortable feelings they have. Electronics and social media allow them to avoid feeling bad in the moment, but ultimately leads to more negative thought patterns long term. While I think this is unavoidable, we can help mitigate these effects by implementing electronics free time and supporting teens to find activities that are beneficial.

If your child is not open to mindfulness activities or yoga, activity sheets and journals could be a really good option for them. It gives them something to do during electronics free time. The prompts get them thinking about how they feel, what they are grateful for, and can help facilitate self awareness and a growth mindset. We’ve used The Big Life Journal, which I think is a really great option. I recently picked up this daily gratitude journal from Chapters that I think is good too. These are not affiliate links, just convenience ones for you.

I find that my daughter will often say she doesn’t want to do the journal or “it’s boring” but then I find them filled out later… So I keep buying them and agreeing I’m lame, and she keeps filling them out pretending she doesn’t like them… I have to swallow my pride a little, but the benefits for her are worth it.

Art or Colouring

Colouring, drawing, or any kind of art is another great option because their brains don’t need to be super focused. This allows it to rest and repair in the same way as when we meditate. It allows the brain to process what’s happened in our day, plan for the future, process emotions and gain perspective. Adding in an activity like this is especially helpful at the end of a school day. There is a lot to process and sort through and they need that downtime. Sitting and listening to music (without staring at a screen) is another good option.

Here are a couple of worksheets to get you started right away.
Gratitude worksheet to practice gratitude, self love, and appreciation.
mandala colouring sheet to practice mindfulness.


Yoga is an easy way to work in breathing techniques because each movement is focused and aligned with the breath. We focus on the breath in order to maintain and move through difficult postures. Our minds are focused on the postures and the breath which gives our brains a similar kind of break to meditating or sleeping. This is why you feel relaxed after, even if the class was hard!

Savasana (the rest at the end of class) is another way to bring this to their attention. At first Savasana is difficult but becomes easier over time. Often teens are willing to do yoga because it is exercise or because it is trendy and a celebrity they like does it. I got my son to do mindfulness because Lebron James is on the Calm app. Once they feel the effects for themselves it is easier to keep an open mind.

Breathing and Meditating

This admittedly is the toughest to get kids and teens on board with if they haven’t yet experienced the benefits for themselves. It’s also the most difficult for them. As mentioned above, teens have a really difficult time just sitting with their thoughts and emotions.

Honestly, I don’t blame them, they have so many big, uncomfortable, emotions at that age, I wouldn’t want to spend time in that space either. However, it’s also one of the most effective ways to recognize and manage emotions, build self awareness, and give kids and teens the ability to advocate for themselves.

I think the important thing in introducing mindfulness/meditation to teens is to be upfront about the reasons it’s important, and tell them the actual scientific benefits as well. Teach them about the nervous system and how those reactions translate into real life . Talking about emotions at home helps kids and teens to identify their own emotions and deal with them appropriately.

Being open and honest about your own feelings and emotions goes a long way as well. I don’t just tell my kids its important for their health and thats why they should do it. I’m honest with them about the fact that I struggled with anxiety, confidence, and anger as a teen, and missed out on a lot of great experiences because of it. I explain that I want to help them avoid going through the same experience. This also helps remind them that you were once a kid too, and even though it was 100 years ago, you had to go though the same feelings they are.

Keep It Short And Easy

Expecting kids and teens to just sit down and meditate for 10-20 minutes is pretty unreasonable. Start off by taking 5 slow, deep breaths. One that is really easy is 3 part breath:

  • Breath in through your nose, down into your stomach until it fills up with air like a balloon.
  • Allow that breath to move up into your ribs and feel them expand.
  • As you exhale, push the air from your ribs back down into your belly until it fills, and then back out through your nose.

    You could even start with 3 breaths and move to 5, then 10.

Another option is guided meditation. This is a really great starting point for anyone just getting started, or if like me you have a crazy “monkey brain”. Guided mediation means you don’t have to sit in silence. It helps the time go by faster and gives you something to focus on. Again, start small and move up. Start with a 5 minute meditation. Then move to 10. Decide from there how long to do depending on how you’re feeling and how much time you have. Five minutes every day has a greater impact than longer sessions that you don’t end up doing so find what works for you.

There are so many meditation apps out there now. Calm and Headpsace are probably the two most popular but here are many others. Most offer a free trial so see what resonates for you and your family. It is money well spent.

Another option is to outsource it. If you’re busy, don’t feel equipped, or it’s causing tension, outsource the hard part of teaching them and you can just reiterate the concepts at home. We do this with sports, art, or any other activities our children do and this is really no different. My kids never want to practice mindfulness when I suggest it, but they will do it in a class because the teacher told them to and everyone else is doing it. Plus we gain the benefit of meeting other like-minded families through the class.

If you’re struggling to get your teens to incorporate these strategies, see if they will go to a yoga class that already incorporates these things. Reach out to parents of their friends to see if they are interested. As you probably know, kids will do almost any activity their friend is doing. If there is nothing in your area, find an online program that works for you!

The point is, this doesn’t have to be difficult, nor should it be. Choose small, little actions that are easy to incorporate. You don’t have to incorporate all of these strategies. Try a few out and just pick the ones that work for you. Any that your kids will do will have a positive impact.

What about when things are already out of hand?

All of the strategies mentioned previously are great for creating self awareness, gratitude and a growth mindset, which can prevent emotions getting out of control, but what about when things do escalate?

Taking deep breaths a great way to calm down quickly in the moment. Slow, controlled, deep breaths help quickly switch our nervous system from sympathetic (stressed, fight or flight mode) into parasympathetic (relax, repair, and maintenance), which helps us return to logical thought processes rather than reactive.

So, next time you’re in a fight just tell your kid to take a deep breath and problem solved right?

HA! If you have a teen you know this is absolutely not going to work! A younger child MAYBE, if you’re lucky, but probably not . Admittedly, if someone tells me to take a breath and calm down, I get more angry, even though I know it is totally the right move ( looking at you, dear husband)

Model Behaviour

Children learn from the behaviours they see, which means we as adults also need to demonstrate these skills. When things start to get heated, we need to have the presence of mind to stop and reset. We need to stop the conversation and say, “I need a break” or “I’m getting frustrated (angry, overwhelmed etc) and I need a moment so I don’t lose my temper”. Even if things have already escalated and you are yelling. You can still stop as soon as you realize and say, “I don’t want to yell. I need a break.”

Take some deep breaths. Take a walk around the block. Have a bath. Whatever you need to do to calm yourself down. Your child will also see this and have that opportunity to calm down as well. If you’ve given them the skills prior, they can choose what works best for them.

This won’t solve everything at once. Over time though, with repeated practice, it will become more natural for both you and your children. It will become more automatic. You will both get better at recognizing these feelings as they start to arise in your body, and can implement strategies before emotions get out of control.

Infographic teaching what the autonomic nervous system is, how stress effects our bodies, and why relaxation is important.

Download this infographic as a quick way to teach your teens the science of stress and its effects on the body.

Feeling emotions is Important

I also want to be clear that we are not trying to teach our children and teens that these emotions are bad, or should be avoided. This is not a “positive vibes only” situation. Everyone feels negative emotions at times and its completely natural and unavoidable. What we are trying to achieve here is empowerment.

Kids need the skills to be self aware, to recognize the emotions they are feeling and how those emotions are affecting their actions. We need to give them the skills to calm themselves down so they can think logically about what they are feeling, and decide how to proceed, rather than reacting from a place of stress.

Having these skills empowers kids and teens to advocate for themselves and feel more in control, leading to more confident, responsible, resilient, and and happy children.

Let me know if you implement any of these strategies and how they are working for you. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, I’m happy to help if I can!

If you want access to the resources in this post as well as all my other free resources to support you and your children, head on over to my platform studio.saltrose.ca and sign up for the Free Resources Library. It has worksheets, games, yoga flows, plus exclusive videos and free classes.

In the meantime friends, stay salty & wild!


People have all kinds of sides to them, and some of them are messy. The point isn’t to push the bad stuff away. It’s to make room for it, live with it.

Jin, Turning Red

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