It’s Friday night, and another exhausting week of work and school is behind us. What could be better than to make some popcorn, pile pillows and blankets in the middle of the floor, and gather the family for some heavy conversations about life and its challenges.
Ha! Kidding, of course. It’s family movie night!!! But as we suggest in this continuing series, it’s actually pretty easy to do both! And with the lists of films we curate, your kids will never even know they’re learning.
This week we’ve selected 4 films to help you talk to your kids about belonging and fitting in. And yes, there are differences (belonging is when we feel accepted for who we are, and fitting in is the desire to change ourselves in order to be accepted). Seem like a challenging topic? Let these movies help.
The Premise: Auggie Pullman is born with facial differences. While his parents tried to protect him by homeschooling, he’s now ready to attend a regular school and find belonging in spite of standing out from everyone else.
Talking Points: Our differences can make us feel ashamed, and make us want to change ourselves to be like, or look like, everyone else. Ask your kids to find the moments in the movie when Auggie tries to hide his differences, or when he wishes that they didn’t exist at all. What about the moments when he embraces them? Let’s ask our kids to talk about ways that they’re different from, and the same as, other kids. Can they think of moments when they tried to hide their own differences? Then talk about how our differences make us special and unique.
Additional Questions: Why do people decide to be unkind to others who are different? What are the qualities that make Auggie such a good friend to people? What are the qualities that make you such a good friend to people?
2. The Iron Giant
The Premise: A giant robot from outer space shows up in Maine where he meets a young boy named Hogarth. The unlikely pair form a bond as they confront forces that wish to destroy the Iron Giant.
Talking Points: Sometimes, people (or robots) we don’t know or understand can cause us to be fearful. While watching this movie together, think about situations when we’ve forgotten to keep an open mind and pushed someone away because of fear. Why does our fear cause us to treat people in ways we shouldn’t? Discuss ways to practice empathy and appreciate everyone for who they are. How did Hogarth and the Iron Giant find connections despite differences? It’s also useful to talk about how people’s actions don’t always define them. What moments in the movie can you see the giant behave in ways that may not have been appropriate, but didn’t mean that he was bad?
Additional Questions: Have you ever been afraid of (or unkind to) a person who you didn’t know or understand? Do you think anyone has ever been unkind to you because of those same kinds of fears? In what ways can we work to get to know people better and learn about who they really are inside?
The Premise: In the city of Zootopia, all animals coexist in relative peace, but that doesn’t mean everything’s perfect. Prejudice abounds, and when a mysterious illness causes animals to “go savage,” residents grow increasingly fearful of each other.
Talking Points: It’s really hard to imagine a kids’ movie profoundly exploring racism, but Zootopia pulls it off, and excels at it. Point out to your kids how easy it is for the animals of Zootopia to judge or exclude others based on their appearance or their species. Explain how, often, people make the same judgements based on the color of our skin, or our places of origin. Then, let’s challenge our kids to think about a time when their first impression was incorrect. Talk about what happened to change their mind about the person. Have your kids ever found themselves being treated differently based on their appearance. Share experiences and talk about ways to celebrate differences and include everyone.
Additional Questions: At the end of the movie, what worked better for the characters: pretending they weren’t different, or embracing their differences? Were the personalities of the animals shaped more by their species, or by their life experiences? What role does fear play in the animals’ judgements of one another.
4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid
The Premise: Middle school student Greg Heffley ranks low in popularity, but he’s determined to advance his status though a series of schemes, which seldom pay off.
Talking Points: Ah, middle school, the epitome of childhood social struggle. Most of Greg’s attempts at acceptance and popularity involve trying to fit it, rather than belonging. Point out moments when Greg tries to change who he really is, verses when he acts like himself. When is he the happiest? This is also a great opportunity to ask your kids what they think it means for someone to be “popular” and why it matters so much. Also, talk about the characteristics of a good friendship and encourage our kids to identify ways they can choose and be good friends.
Additional Questions: Which characters try to change themselves for others, and which ones are always true to themselves? How does that work out for them? Are Greg’s attempts to fit in good decisions or bad decisions?
Not feeling accepted is painful, and all kids (and adults) struggle sometimes to find a sense of belonging. Need more help having conversations about acceptance, social skills, and confidence? Check out the amazing interviews inside the Confident Child Summit, available with a subscription to the GoZen! Summit Library. The experts are on hand to help you give your kids tools of confidence and resilience while they work to find their place in the world.