Life Lessons From Disney Movies To Teach Our Kids
Disney movies are chock full of wisdom—here’s what kids (and parents!) can learn from six of our favorites.
By Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal
My daughter is in the second grade and just turned 8-years-old—and quite often, my mind goes blank during what should be “teachable moments.” Sometimes, I simply can’t believe my daughter is already experiencing unrequited crushes, feeling left out of cliques, or not being heard at school. Other times, I’m just baffled as she breaks our rules, talks back, or worse, thinks she knows best, and blatantly ignores me and my husband. I grasp for the right words or perfect anecdote, trying to have an “a-ha” chat with my daughter, straight out of the sitcoms I grew up watching like Full House or Growing Pains. It never quite goes the same way as a heart-to-heart between Danny and DJ Tanner.
But, thankfully, we’re a Disney house. My daughter started watching Disney movies in the womb and her first birthday was celebrated at the Magic Kingdom. It was during the pandemic when I realized I had an entire library of life—and parenting—lessons sitting right in my Apple TV’s Disney+ subscription. Using Ariel’s defiance or Belle’s tenacity as conversation starters resonates with my daughter much more than if I strung a bunch of cliche advice together, or worse yet, desperately tried to convince her that I could relate through stories from my own childhood.
Here’s six of the best lessons I’ve curated for my daughter straight out of Disney movies. And want a hot tip? These lessons apply to adult situations, too!
Lesson 1: Face Your Fears
Perseverance is at the heart of every goal you set for yourself—no matter how big, insurmountable, or overwhelming it feels. In Finding Nemo, Marlin never gives up on finding his son Nemo—even when it means facing fears, setbacks, and crossing an entire ocean. Marlin ultimately finds Nemo because he follows his heart and doesn’t give up. Life is full of struggles, but you have your inner strength to push through—and just keep swimming.
Lesson 2: Your Voice Is Your Most Powerful Tool
In The Little Mermaid, Ariel sacrificed her beautiful voice to the evil Ursula to live a new life above the sea, where the “people” were (including handsome Prince Eric). She believed she’d fit in more there than under the sea. But without her voice, Prince Eric couldn’t “see” Ariel’s inner beauty, including her outspoken mind, her loyalty as a friend, and the singing voice that doubled as a beacon of hope and healing. Never underestimate the power of your own voice—and never stifle it so you’ll fit in. You’re not with the right crowd if they’d rather you stayed silent.
Lesson 3: Feelings—Good, Bad, or Scary—Are Okay to Feel
Riley has her emotions—Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust—raging inside her throughout Inside Out, making it hard to make sense of them all. So Joy tries taking over and preventing Sadness from dominating Riley’s feelings. It makes sense. I mean, why feel sadness when joy is there, trying to push through? Well, because acknowledging and embracing ALL of your emotions is part of growing up and understanding yourself. Forcing joy when you’re still processing sadness just stuffs it down, only for that sadness to come back up and explode later on.
Lesson 4: Embrace Yourself—Even When Others Don’t
When it comes to Beauty and the Beast, the most obvious lesson is “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” A very important life lesson for sure—but there’s more to learn from Belle. The townspeople think she’s odd and peculiar because she’s smart and unimpressed by the “popular” Gaston. They don’t understand why Belle’s always reading books; they make fun of her father’s inventions and eccentricities. Belle, however, doesn’t care what they think or let it get her down. Instead, she stays true to herself and stands up for her father. It’s a lesson that applies to toddlers and teens alike—if you’re getting teased or someone doesn’t understand you (or your family), the best defense is to ignore them and embrace yourself.
Lesson 5: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
In Tangled, at first, poor Rapunzel was convinced by Mother Gothel that leaving the tower she grew up in and never stepped outside of would be the worst decision of her life. Rapunzel was made to believe it was better to stay confined to the small and limiting world Mother Gothel created for her. Who was Rapunzel to disagree when she’d been safe (or so she thought) and comfortable inside the tower? Thankfully, Rapunzel decided it was time to “let down her hair” and realized by staying inside the “comfort” of the tower walls, she’d never experience anything new or different. Scary as it was, pushing herself to leave the tower meant fresh energy, new beginnings, and experiences were waiting for Rapunzel.
Lesson 6: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
The Lion King came out when I was entering my senior year of high school. I was worried about SAT scores, college acceptance, prom dates, and curfews. All reasonable worries, but they overtook my brain, stopping me from enjoying that magical last year of high school—a year you only experience once. Then I heard Timon and Pumbaa share the simplest of phrases with Simba—”Hakuna Matata”, which means, “don’t worry, be happy” in Swahili. Sure, my worries were valid but they didn’t need to consume me. I love reminding my daughter to be happy, stay in the moment, and be grateful for all she has to look forward to.