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I recently realized that I had been interpreting Elsa’s big “Let It Go” number from Frozen incorrectly these last several years when it comes to my kids and helping them manage (or not) their big emotions. It finally struck me that the song is not about how great it is to express your emotions—but that I could still use Elsa to help my kids better control their emotions, avoid epic tantrums, and make up for past misdeeds.

In the lead up to this epiphany, my kids had a hard week. My son may or may not have had to take a day off of preschool last week due to…a storm of emotions (and some violent actions he may have taken as a result). Just days later, my daughter got rained on at the park and started screaming like the other famous Idina Menzel character (the wicked witch of the west, Elphaba of Wicked), melting away when doused in water. When I told her she was not going to melt, she bit me.

Managing these tiny people and their big feelings was exhausting—and a little embarrassing. I was having a hard time carrying on and was desperate for a creative solution. As we fled the downpour in the car, “Let It Go” came on my kids’ playlist shuffle, and I saw the song in a fresh light. It is not triumph and freedom of expression; it is an environmental disaster. Elsa ruined a summer festival, severed several trade agreements, probably spoiled her country’s harvest, and could have killed people who froze to death in the sudden storm or crashed their buggies on the icy roads.

A little Frozen refresher

If you haven’t watched the movie on repeat for the last several years (lucky you), here’s a quick refresher: The movie begins with magical Elsa who has ice powers that seem to grow stronger with her emotions. After she injures her non-magical younger sister, Anna, Elsa’s parents tell Elsa to “conceal, don’t feel” her emotions and not let her powers or her feelings show. For years Elsa keeps her emotions—good and bad—bottled up inside until one day, she explodes, lets all the feelings out, freezes the kingdom of Arendelle despite the fact that it’s summer, and locks herself in an ice palace away from the world.

Anna pleads with Elsa to unfreeze Arendelle, but Elsa doesn’t know how. Anna nearly dies trying to save the kingdom and her sister until Elsa realizes that her sister loves and believes in her. Elsa’s kingdom has not abandoned her or decided she’s a monster because of her powers. Securely attached, Elsa melts the snow with the power of love. She is able to control her powers.

What Elsa can teach our kids about managing their emotions

I sat the kids down at the kitchen table. The big feelings had continued unabated through the weekend, and I was now ready with a new plan.

“You guys have been having a lot of big feelings,” I said, “and people have been getting hurt. I don’t want you to be like Elsa in the beginning of the movie and conceal not feel your feelings. But all of this ‘letting it go’ is making a big mess. Summer is being ruined for all of Arendelle.”

I know not all kids “get” metaphors, but mine nodded.

We recounted the end of the movie. My daughter talked about Elsa using her “calm-down skills” to control her powers and my son talked about Elsa realizing that people loved her and how knowing that empowered her to be able to unfreeze her kingdom.

“I love you guys infinitely even when you have bad days,” I told them. “I don’t say this to shame you or tell you you’re bad. You’re not bad. You’re very good. But you did cause some harm. We need to help melt Arendelle. I have come up with some things we’re going to do to help each other and your community.”

I brought out a white board with a schedule written out for the next two days: Instead of “media time,” there was chore time, and time for my daughter to read to my son (along with the usual snack times, family reading time, and bedtime routines).

My kids accepted their fate and while they did continue to have big feelings in the days that followed, they didn’t let the storm rage on nearly as badly as before.



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