How to help children create their own ‘Inside Out’ characters


The Pixar film ‘Inside Out’ is brilliant for working with children, to help them explore how their feelings drive their thoughts and behaviours. The story is an adventure that takes place in the mind of an 11 year old girl, featuring her emotions as characters.   
Each of the characters in the film was designed that way for a reason. Anger is shaped like a brick, Joy is based on a star, Sadness – tear drop and Fear is long and thin like a nerve. I read somewhere that Disgust is supposed to be broccoli but that just might be an old wives tale. 
With this activity, you can help children to create their own characters to represent their emotions. 
1. Help them to become comfortable with drawing abstract shapes and scribbles. Ask them to close their eyes and just let the pen move around the page. Put on some dramatic music and ask them to let their pen move instinctively to the music, in whichever way feels right.
2. Now get a piece of paper and divide it into 6. Label each box with an emotion. 
3. One by one, ask the child to remember a time they felt each emotion. Ask them to describe in detail what they could see, hear, and feel what they felt at that time. Be careful with this, especially if they’ve experienced some kind of trauma. Ask them to think of something that happened in school, or somewhere that isn’t likely to lead them to access anything that could be too much for the session. When they’re ready, invite them to, without thinking about it, draw a shape in the box to go with the emotion. Give each shape a face with eyes and expressions to fit. There’s a brief guide below for getting faces right by adjusting the eyebrows and the mouth. They can colour each of them in with crayons, pastels or paint, in colours that they associate with each feeling. In the film, Anger is red, Joy is yellow, Disgust is green, Fear is purple and Sadness is blue. They can find their own colour code.

Once you have these characters you can use them for anything you can imagine. They could make comics about them, play drawing games with them, make profiles for them, animations, all kinds of things. Some good questions to ask about the characters are:
1. Do they have a name?

2. What is their goal?

3. What do they want / need?

4. How can they help you?

5. What would you like to tell them?
If you can get the emotions to talk to each other, maybe in a comic or an animation, that can be very powerful. The characters in the film sometimes worked together and sometimes against each other. The thing that stopped the hero from running away from home in the end was when the Sad character and the Joy character finally understood each other, and learned to work together.
As always, the best way to understand this activity is to do it yourself first. Feel free to share your own characters by contacting me and I’ll post them on here. 
Here’s a quick guide to facial expressions:

A drawing game for engaging teenagers


Comics are made up of lines, shapes and words. In this blog I wrote for JKP, I talked about a game I play to help build relationships, using lines, shapes and words.

Here’s how you play it:

Shapes, Lines, Words

You will need paper and pens, and 2 or more people. 

1. Explain that you will take it in turns to draw a line, a word or a shape on the paper. 

2. Do that until you’ve created a picture. Towards the end you can stop taking it in turns and just finish the picture together however you want. You can encourage rapport by mirroring things they’ve drawn, or contributing in a way that brings it all together. For example if they draw a circle one side, I might draw another on the other side. Also, TOP TIP – if you put two circles in any enclosed shape, they can become eyes. 

3. Create a title for the masterpiece by taking it in turns to write a word. Underline the title and everyone signs their name. 

4. Ask the participants to tell a story about what is happening in the picture. 

I played this with a young person on our second meeting and this is what we created (see pic below). It’s entitled ‘This is Bob, are you ok?’ Everybody loves Bob because he makes them feel good by asking if they are ok. 

I found out that Bob is a bit like a teacher at school, who everyone goes to when they get angry or upset in class. We chatted about this for the rest of the session, which is what’s good about this game because it helps you to communicate initially without having to use words, and that can gently lead on to conversation. You don’t have to be able to draw well because you’re just contributing shapes, lines and words – which is actually all that drawing is anyway, but this way you don’t know where it’s going. If there’s a group you can reflect on what roles people took – who added colour? Whose contributions were bold? Reserved? Who drew things that didn’t connect to the picture? Who brought it all together? You can do this lightly to explore group dynamics, without having to get all Sigmund Freud about it – more curious than analytical. And you can pick out meaning and metaphor from the game by talking about how in the beginning it doesn’t look like your random marks on the paper could look like anything, but bit by bit an image starts to emerge and by the end the image tells a story.

My book, Cartooning Teen Stories, contains many more drawing games for working with people. You can get a copy here: