At Social Bridges, one technique we use to implement social-emotional learning in elementary school groups is by reading stories, often referred to as bibliotherapy.  Wonderful children’s authors, such as Julia Cook, help kids build emotional literacy by describing what it feels like in our bodies when we experience feelings. Other social-emotional learning occurs through the characters and how kids observe them navigating social situations.

As parents, a way to weave social-emotional learning into daily life is by using the books and movies you are already enjoying with your child. A new movie on many parents’ radar is the Pixar film, Luca.  I enjoyed this movie for so many reasons; beautiful animation, an engaging story line and it’s set in Italy. What’s not to love?  *Spoiler alert – In discussing teachable moments of the movie, I will be revealing parts of the story. *

How Luca Sparks Important Discussions

In terms of helping children who are often marginalized to feel seen and represented, Pixar hit it out of the park with Luca. There are so many lessons to be learned from this charming tale.

Representation of Marginalized Populations

Consider our heroes:

  • Alberto is a daring, “street- smart” sea monster/boy whose keeps tallies on the wall since father left when he was young,
  • Luca is a 13-year-old curious sea monster/boy trying to find where he belongs. Does he belong to the sea, or to the land?  He is trying to explore identify feels most authentic to him.
  • Giulia is a superbright and quirky girl who can be “too much” for some people. She has trouble regulating her emotions and connecting with her peers. Her parents are divorced, and she spends summers with her dad.
  • Giulia’s dad, Massimo, is an outstanding fisherman who has overcome his disability (having one arm) and overcomes his implicit biases.

Social Justice

The film also shows how implicit bias and stereotypes can divide us, and ways they can be overcome. The film portrays implicit bias by demonstrating the fish being fearful of the “land monsters” on the surface, and the humans fearing the “sea monsters”.   Both sides have preconceived notions about one another, which are largely based on mistaken beliefs and assumptions. As the story progresses, both species get to know one another, and in so doing, are less fearful and appreciate one another.

  • Ask your child: How can we learn more about others who may look different than us or have different beliefs?

Being an Upstander

We have the bully Escole, and his sidekicks, Ciccio & Guido, targeting those who seem “different.”  Throughout the story, we see the town grow from complicit bystanders, to upstanders. Led by Massimo, the town takes action against the injustice.

  • Ercole and his sidekicks said mean things to Alberto and Luca and tried to get others to leave them out.
  • Ercole made fun of Guilia’s attempt to win the race last year and getting sick to her stomach.
  • Ask your child – What can we do when we see someone being mean to others?

Grit and Resilience

We observe the learning from mistakes and facing challenges bravely in the following ways:

  • Giulia’s grit in entering the race despite failing the previous year.
  • Luca conquering a new and challenging skill (riding a bike) to compete in the race.
  • Daniela and Lorenzo, Luca’s parents, persevere in facing their own fears in order to find their son
  • Massimo’s determination and independence as a one- armed fisherman and cook.

Ask your child: What is something that is challenging for you to do? What can you do to improve?

Using Luca to Reinforce Social-Emotional Learning

Weaving social awareness into our day-to-day interactions with our children encourages them to be self-aware and teaches them how words and actions impact others. You can ask your child the following open-ended questions that encourage perspective taking and smart decision making:

  • Alberto and Luca initially wanted to win the race to get a Vespa to get out of town and escape. What could they have done to deal with their problems instead of running away?
  • Is family only people you are related to? Massimo, the fisherman became family to Alberto and Gulia’s mom became family to Luca. What is important in a family? Can friends become family?
  • Luca made some choices that were dangerous and hurtful to his buddy, Alberto. Did he think before he led the boys to Alberto as a fish? What was the consequence? How do you repair the damage when you hurt someone you care about (intentionally or unintentionally)

Storytelling can be wonderful hooks for discussing important social-emotional topics with our children. Thank you, Pixar, for a beautifully done movie – filled with fun and opportunities for connection and communication. Ciao!

Written by Carol Miller, LCSW

Edited by Danielle Bentz, MA

Photo by Oren Lonstein on Unsplash