By Dr. Vincent Ho
King is a wonderful movie, but we will leave the accolades
for great characters and amazing songs to others. Instead,
let’s review how this film can help parents talk
to their kids about important situations and feelings.
Keep in mind we do not propose that the Lion King has
all the answers, but the movie provides many chances
to break the ice on difficult emotional topics. Once
through that door into a child’s mind and heart,
the rest is up to you. Let’s look at two things:
1) Loss of a parent or loved one and 2) Dealing with
grief or depression.
of a Parent
of the most startling moments in movie history is the
loud gunshot that signals the off-screen death of Bambi’s
mother. It shocks and saddens in one wrenching moment.
Clearly, it devastates Bambi, but the movie then quickly
jumps ahead to his triumphant growth into a young stag.
We do not get to see how Bambi deals with this loss,
only that he turns out fine. Instead of this abrupt
transition, the Lion King provides a more in depth look
at to how Simba handles the death of his father, Mufasa.
death in the stampede of the wildebeasts, Simba must
deal with feelings of guilt, loss, and abandonment.
Unaware of his uncle Scar’s treachery, Simba believes
that he is responsible for his father’s death.
Guilt is sometimes common in children when they blame
themselves for being bad or “acting up”
before the death of a parent. Finding ways for them
to express these pent-up feelings and frustrations can
help relieve some of these unwarranted and self-imposed
A sense of
abandonment is also a major challenge both in the movie
and real life loss of a loved one. Simba’s loneliness
is highlighted when Rafiki sends him on a desperate
run through the night jungle in search of his father.
Crying out for his father, Simba finally encounters
a sky borne image of Mufasa. In an ethereal Obi-Wan
manner, Mufasa reminds Simba of their family connection
and the value of his life.
on your philosophical or religious background, the conversation
and comfort that Simba derives from the spiritual presence
of his father may be of help when discussing death with
a child. However, care should be taken to avoid the
rush to immediate “It’s God’s will”
consolations. There may be time later for such discussions,
but right after a loss is usually not an effective time
and may instead result in a backlash of resentment.
Even if you do not have a particular religious belief,
Mufasa’s message to Simba does contain valuable
reminders that the legacy of a parent’s example
lives on in a child.
with Grief or Depression
addition to guilt, Simba suffers from grief and depression
right after the death of Mufasa. A scene that captures
the identification of depression occurs when Timon and
Pumba find Simba wasting away in the desert. Certainly,
this desolate physical setting is an appropriate reflection
of this mind state. Coming upon the distraught Simba,
his carefree friends note:
he looks blue.
say brownish, gold.
no, no. I mean he’s depressed.
the early years of medicine, research has shown that
children do suffer from depression. Depression and other
forms of depression like dysthymia, can have a crippling
impact on a child’s development. Early identification
of depression in children may save years of turmoil
and prevent some of the serious consequences of this
illness. The fact that more young people (15 to 24 years)
die from suicide than cancer, meningitis, HIV, pneumonia,
or all of the other medical illnesses combined emphasizes
the severity of depression’s threat to children.
own depression establishes a context to discuss this
disorder with children. Explaining the clinical signs
and symptoms of depression to kids can be difficult.
But Simba’s demeanor, loss of energy, and lack
of interest as he drags through the desert provide concrete
examples for kids to visualize. Understanding how depression
affects other people can decrease a child’s feeling
of isolation with this illness. Children with depression
can be helped, and providing hopes for improvement is
an essential goal in treatment.
Matata is a memorable song that occurs during a montage
of Simba’s growth from a cub to a young lion.
The words of the song impart the message of “No
Worries”. This song can be a useful tool to discuss
anxiety reduction with very nervous or uptight kids.
Thought stopping is a technique that can stop the downward
spiral of worry. However, avoidance and not thinking
about things does have its limits and possible negative
outcomes. It is to the movie’s credit that Simba
cannot ignore his own responsibilities to save his pride
land. He must face his fears and confront his worse
enemy at the end of the film.
movie. There is no need to sit your child down for a
“talk”. But keep these tips your back pocket,
so that when an opportunity does arise, you can say
“Remember when Simba…”
Vincent Ho is a child psychiatrist, CEO of CYKE, and
has three kids of his own.
the about The Lion King DVD