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8 Valuable Lessons Learned From Toy Story

Woody, Buzz and the rest of the Toy Story gang have taught us some important life lessons. Mighty Mommy rounded up eight of the very best.

By
Cheryl Butler
Episode #537
kid playing with toy

My kids and I kicked off our summer season with an incredibly special family night—we hit the movie theater and enjoyed an amazing road trip with Woody, Buzz and the other endearing, iconic characters of Disney’s Toy Story 4 for their best adventure yet!

What struck me most about watching this inspired group of loveable and heroic toys rally, yet again, for the love of their “kid” was how many incredible, life-learning moments this series has taught us for nearly 25 years. As the mom of eight kids, I thought I’d share eight of my favorite takeaways from this Pixar masterpiece.

Change Is the Only Constant—Embrace it!

As parents, we learn quickly that although we’d love for time to stand still when we embrace our newborn for those first sweet weeks, the infant stage won't last. They outgrow their newborn diapers and onesies faster than even Buzz’s lightyear travels. As parents, we watch our kids grow in leaps and bounds. Their personalities, habits, weaknesses and strengths change faster than the speed of light. (Thank you, Buzz!)

But many of us dislike change. In 8 Reasons Why It's so Hard to Really Change Your Behavior, columnist David DiSalvo says, “One review of 129 behavior change studies found that the consistently least effective change strategies hinged on fear and regret. As much as this sounds like a platitude, real change needs a positive platform to launch from; you need positive, self-edifying reasons for taking on the challenge.”

Toy Story helps us realize that we can’t stop change. It’s necessary to help us grow and learn.

Fear is definitely a factor that makes many of us dread change. We have no control over the things we can’t predict or know until we’ve experienced them. Toy Story 3 portrayed this message beautifully. Andy, the child whose toys make up the characters in Toy Story, is preparing to depart for college. Although they have mixed feelings about watching him leave, Woody observes how his owner’s family is able to embrace the new adventures that await Andy. Now, Woody realizes it’s time for him to do the same thing. He recommends that he and his friends be passed along to a new child, Bonnie, to start a new beginning of their own. As Andy drives down the road, Woody sadly whispers, "So long, partner.", accepting that it's time to move on. (I cried for hours after that scene!)

Toy Story helps us realize that we can’t stop change. It’s necessary to help us grow and learn. As parents, we need to embrace it to raise successful, independent young adults.

Even actor Tom Hanks, the voice of Woody agrees: “To be alive is to be in a constant state of change.”

Practice Acceptance

If you didn’t see the original Toy Story movie, you missed the clever and infamous scene where Woody and the rest of Andy’s close-knit family of toys wait to hear what new gifts Andy received for his birthday. They're anxious about the possibility of a new toy replacing one of them.

Enter Buzz Lightyear, the toy with super cool laser beams and space gear. Now, the old-fashioned Sheriff Woody doll, Andy’s favorite toy for years, has some stiff competition. As the leader of the toy pack, Woody puts aside his feelings of jealousy and intimidation and reluctantly welcomes Buzz to Andy’s room. And so the adventure begins.

The variety of toys portrayed in the Toy Story series truly offered a glimpse into the diversity that surrounds families in our everyday lives. There were pretty toys, brave ones, artistic types, colorful and plain toys. Some had accessories that made them exceptional while others were basic and no-frills. The bottom line was that every toy was unique in its own way. Regardless of its size, color, price tag, or extra bells and whistles, every toy in Andy’s room was accepted as an individual.

Every toy was unique in its own way. Regardless of its size, color, price tag, or extra bells and whistles, every toy in Andy’s room was accepted as an individual.

The lesson of acceptance is one of the most important in each of the Toy Story movies. We are humbly reminded that our children, family members, and friends all have their unique talents, strengths, and faults. We need to be accepting of them regardless of our differences.

See also: 5 Ways to Practice Acceptance with Your Child

Tune In to Your Inner Voice

There's no shortage of entertaining and riveting banter between Woody and Buzz. But Buzz, who continually faced challenges, had to make important decisions as the result of listening to another important voice—his own.

Toy Story handled this brilliantly. Buzz simply pushed one of the buttons on his expansive chest gear every time he faced a crisis. He selected one of the buttons and whatever message was delivered was how he would respond to his current predicament.

In real life, we don’t come equipped with a series of buttons to randomly push when we need to solve a problem. But we do have something equally powerful—our inner voice. Your conscience speaks to you when you’re struggling with difficult choices or other uncomfortable situations that crop up in our busy parenting lives.

In real life, we don’t come equipped with a series of buttons to randomly push when we need to solve a problem. But we do have something equally powerful—our inner voice.

One way to get in tune with your inner voice is to create blocks of quiet time throughout your week so you can simply get in touch with your own thoughts and feelings. A great way to do this is by meditating.

In How Meditation Can Improve Concentration, you can learn some expert tips on how to quiet your mind and tune in to your inner voice. No button pushing required!

Dream Big

Woody was known for many things, and one of his remarkable characteristics was his pull string quotes. Probably my favorite, and certainly the most meaningful, was “Reach for the sky.” Sure, it's an idiom from movie Westerns for "put your hands up," but I like to think of it as a metaphor for dreaming big and reaching for challenging goals.

That’s not to say Buzz Lightyear didn’t have his own repertoire of outstanding messages. “To infinity and beyond” is a catchphrase that kids and adults alike have been touting for two decades now ever since we bonded with the loveable toys from Andy’s room.

Those two quotes are fantastic reminders that we should all pursue the dreams that grow in our hearts. For Woody, Buzz and the other Toy Story characters, they shared a common dream—being loved by a kid. As Buzz so poignantly put it, “Life’s only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid.”  Dreams are an important part of our lives. When one of my own kids faces a setback and feels like giving up, I love to encourage them with a fun reminder to “Reach for the sky.” Anything is possible when you put your mind to it and believe.

Imaginations are Priceless

One of the standouts for me in the Toy Story series are the scenes where Andy is happily running through the house with Woody in one hand and Buzz in the other. He's simply laughing and playing without a care in the world. One second Woody will be rescuing Andy’s toys from a make-believe robbery, and in the next Rex the dinosaur and the potato heads are saving the world from a space invasion.

Toy Story emphasized how much Andy enjoyed his downtime. He was never bored because he knew how to use his imagination for hours of creative play. How refreshing!

Today’s kids may be exposed to cutting-edge electronic devices, but nothing can top using one’s imagination. Pretend play is so important in cultivating a child’s creative side, but with today’s overscheduled family lives, downtime can be hard to come by.

Toy Story emphasized how much Andy enjoyed his downtime. He was never bored because he knew how to use his imagination for hours of creative play. How refreshing!

In my episode 6 Ways to Create Unstructured Play Time for Your Kids, I shared strategies on how kids can entertain themselves without electronics or constant interaction with mom and dad. I mentionied that boredom can also be an opportunity. According to Linda Caldwell, professor of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management and Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State:

“Kids who are always bored in their leisure time, are in danger of developing long-term boredom, where nothing is ever interesting. That long-term boredom has been linked to substance abuse, school drop out, and vandalism."

And boredom doesn’t just come from having too few activities. Caldwell says it could be a sign you have too many. So, avoid over-scheduling your kids, too.

Toy Story reminds us to encourage back-to-basic play as an important part of growing up. Actually, it's a great tool to help adults destress and enjoy unstructured time, too!

Express Your Emotions

The toys in Andy’s room cherished the time he spent playing with them. Their mission was simply to bring Andy as much joy and love as possible, as we see in scene after scene. Bo Peep is the damsel in distress in a Western scene with Woody. Slinky Dog always stands by Woody’s side. The green, plastic army men dutifully carry out dangerous missions. The toys just wanted to be part of Andy’s play routines.

The crowning glory for any of the toys, however, was earning the coveted badge of honor: Andy scratching his name on them. That was Andy’s way of saying he loved them.

Thank you, Andy, for reminding us not to forget to express our emotions, no matter how old we are.

This symbol may not seem like one of the big life lessons in Toy Story, but I think it's essential. We don’t often take the time to tell those closest to us that we love them. We may think people know how we feel. But when you say “I love you” to your kids when they leave for school each day, or slip a love note in to your partner’s briefcase or under his pillow, your message will be received loud and clear.

Thank you, Andy, for reminding us not to forget to express our emotions, no matter how old we are.

Friendships Are Vital

Even folks who weren’t swept away with Toy Story mania are probably familiar with its catchy, hit theme song, Randy Newman's “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” The popular tune served as the backdrop for the friendship between Woody and his owner, Andy. Later, it spoke to the friendship between Buzz and Woody and the rest of Andy’s toys.

Although their relationship had a rocky start, the adventures that Woody and Buzz share together, and their palpable love and loyalty for Andy, bond them as lifelong friends. Their journey shows that no friendship is perfect, but we see countless examples of how Andy’s toy posse always look out for one another and have each other’s backs.

In Toy Story 4, we see this demonstrated when the newest character, Forky, joins the crew.

Woody, who takes his role as caretaker of his kid very seriously, hides away in Bonnie’s backpack on her Kindergarten orientation day because she’s terrified of going to school. He witnesses her anxiety-ridden day until she creates her new best friend, Forky, a craft project whipped up out of a spork, a popsicle stick, some pipe cleaners, and mismatched googly eyes. Bonnie falls in love with her new creation and takes him everywhere she goes. When they become separated later in the story, she's devastated. Woody and the gang make a pact to find Forky and reunite the two. Forky may be a new friend, but he is a welcomed addition to Bonnie’s toy family. The toys will stop at nothing to help him.

Friendships are a vital part of our lives. Psychology Today’s article, Friendship Matters, says that “Strong friendships are a critical aspect of most people's emotional well-being. They can bolster against loneliness, decrease anxiety, and improve one's physical health. When it comes to establishing a friendship, the quality of time spent together proves more important than the quantity.”

Toy Story reminds us to nurture our friendships and look out for one another. As parents, we want our kids to make meaningful friendships. It’s also important to foster our own adult relationships. A close circle of friends helps to keep us balanced and grounded.

Friendships can be nurturing even under the most unlikely circumstances. Just look at how pivotal Buzz was in helping Woody make one of the biggest decisions of his life when they freed Forky at the end of Toy Story 4! (You’ll have to see the movie to find out for yourself!)

Speaking of Forky, that leads me to my final thought on this life changing Disney series:

Everyone is Special

When I first learned that one of the lead characters in Toy Story 4 was going to be a toy created out of a spork, I thought it would never work. How could a spork compete with the likes of Woody and Buzz? Well, I wholeheartedly admit how wrong I was. There are many clever twists and facets that encompass this character. We could have a podcast on that alone! But one of the themes in the Toy Story universe is that every toy has a purpose.

Bonnie was struggling with heading off to Kindergarten by herself. It looked as though the entire experience was going to be a complete disaster until her sweet teacher introduced her to the craft table. Tentative at first, Bonnie found items from the garbage and soon created the unforgettable Forky. This little guy was not sure why Bonnie was so attached to him—he continuously referred to himself as “trash” throughout the movie. At one point, Forky even throws himself out of a moving vehicle because he’s so determined to go to the dump. He didn’t feel worthy of being a toy. But the underlying theme in this series is that toys come to life as a result of being loved by a child.

Don’t look at someone’s faults and shortcomings. Instead, focus on what makes them unique, what makes them special.

Bonnie saw something special in her beloved Forky. Even though he has uneven eyes and a scraggly mouth, she loves him unconditionally. He comforts her, is her companion, and is an important part of her life and her imagination. How awesome is that?

What a great lesson for all of us! Don’t look at someone’s faults and shortcomings. Instead, focus on what makes them unique, what makes them special.

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What lessons have your family learned from Toy Story? Please share your thoughts in the comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy, post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page or email me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com. Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT. Subscribe to the QDT newsletter to get parenting tips and more delivered directly to your inbox.

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About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!

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