Discussion Packet

Clifford the Big Red Dog (2021) – Discussion Guide

Discussion Guide:

  1. Bridwell specializes in animals that are unique or different and many have magical powers. If you could have a pet with a special power, what would you want?
    Caregiver Note: This question is primarily just for fun and bonding. The idea is to get a conversation going with your child and get to know each other better. However, talking about special powers may offer some insight into things your child values or wishes they could do.
  2. Why do you think the kids at Emily Elizabeth’s school are so mean to her? Have similar things ever happened to someone at your school?
    Caregiver Note: We see a number of instances where Emily Elizabeth is bullied by her classmates for being different. They especially seem to tease her about her socioeconomic status. This can be a great opportunity to talk to your child(ren) about what bullying looks like and give them the opportunity to talk about their own experiences.
  3. In addition to being mean to her at school, some of the kids also use cyberbullying against Emily Elizabeth. How do you think this affects her as compared to their actions at school?
    Caregiver Note: Cyberbullying is becoming more and more of a problem in today’s world of social media and technology. While all bullying is extremely harmful, a person’s home is usually seen as a safe retreat, even when the outside world is being hurtful. But with cyberbullying there’s no getting away from it. This can be an opportunity to talk to kids about cyberbullying, what it is and why it’s harmful. Posting a silly video about someone might feel like a harmless prank, with the added bonus of being able to say things anonymously. But by looking at this scene and the way Emily Elizabeth reacts it can help start a conversation about the subject as a family.
  4. Clifford is not like other dogs. How do his unique traits help him?
    Caregiver Note: This isn’t a particularly deep question but it’s a fun way to get thinking and talking about how having unique strengths and abilities can be helpful and important. Experiencing childhood trauma can often lead to the development of poor self-esteem. Talking about how Clifford’s uniqueness helps him can be a way to lead into a conversation about the unique strengths of your child(ren) and the benefits those traits might have.
  5. Do you think Uncle Casey was a good caregiver for Emily Elizabeth? Why or why not?
    Caregiver Note: Uncle Casey is portrayed as an immature and ‘goofy’ uncle character, but his care leans almost closer to being neglectful. Emily Elizabeth asks her mom not to leave her with him due to poor previous experiences and her mom does not listen and leaves her in his care anyway. Casey encourages her to break into her school and lie to her mother. He also doesn’t seem to keep a very close eye on her and she ends up in several dangerous situations under his watch. Children who have experienced trauma may not always know what a safe and positive caregiver relationship looks like. This can be an opportunity to talk about what is important in a caregiver. Their opinion of what makes a good or bad caregiver may also offer insight to some of their own experiences and expectation of what they might need from you in order to feel safe.
  6. What about Emily Elizabeth? Is she a good caregiver to Clifford?
    Caregiver Note: This goes along with the previous question and serves to offer a compare/contrast moment in discussion. Emily Elizabeth refuses to abandon Clifford, even when he causes problems for her and her uncle. She takes risks to try to protect him and even is willing to send him away, even though it hurts her, because she wants what’s best for him and to keep him safe.
  7. Why is everyone so afraid of Clifford? Do you think this is a fair judgement of him?
    Caregiver Note: Clifford is extremely large and red, two things that are not common traits in a dog. Because of this he is stigmatized as being dangerous and out-of-control. Those who know Clifford know that he is not this way and would never hurt anyone. In fact, he goes out of his way to try to help people. But those who don’t know him just see him as this big, scary thing that is different and they don’t understand. This only gets worse as Lifegro starts rumors in an attempt to kidnap him and they get the police to believe he is dangerous which in turn trickles into the community’s beliefs. The same stigma is often attached to kids, especially teenagers, in foster care. They are labeled as ‘bad’ or ‘dangerous’ which may lead the larger community to assume things about them, rather than getting to know the individual child. Talking about the ways in which Clifford is stigmatized may lead kids to open up about their own similar experiences. But if they need to keep the conversation about the characters, that’s okay too! Even then their answer to this question may offer some insight to their own feelings about the subject.
  8. Why does Emily Elizabeth send Clifford away? Do you think she did the right thing?
    Caregiver Note: Because the police and Lifegro are hunting Clifford, Emily Elizabeth realizes she does not have the ability to keep him safe. Because of this she agreed to send him to live on an animal reserve that her friend’s father runs where he will be protected because it’s what’s best for him. Sending him away doesn’t mean she doesn’t love him, but that she recognizes she can’t give him what he needs right now and wants to make sure he is able to get that somewhere else. Kids may have different opinions as to whether or not this was the right thing to do, likely colored by their own experiences and it’s important to give space for those big feelings, whatever they are.
  9.  How do you think it made Emily feel to have to send Clifford away? How about Clifford? Was there anything Emily could have done differently to make the goodbye easier for him?
    Caregiver Note: Emily takes the time to explain to Clifford the reasons why he has to leave and to tell him how much she cares for him. While the separation is still emotional and both characters are very upset about it, she does what she can to make it a healthy goodbye. Talking about this scene may also prompt children to bring up their own experiences with separation, either directly or indirectly. Talking about what Emily did/didn’t do as Clifford’s caregiver may reflect their own experience and what they wish had been different. It may also offer some insight to what might help them with future transitions.
  10.  In the beginning of the movie Emily feels pretty alone, but by the end of the movie she realizes she actually has a lot of people in her life who care about her. Who are some of the people that make up your ‘village’?
    Caregiver Note: This may be a hard one for kiddos to answer, especially if this is a newer placement for them or if they’re newly in care. But it can also be a great opportunity to start a discussion about the people they have rooting for them that they might not realize. This may include foster/adoptive family, biological family, caseworkers, teachers, therapists, neighbors, friends, etc. Feeling a sense of community is important, as is knowing who are safe people to go to when something bad happens. When coming into foster care or adoption children are experiencing separation not only from their biological family but their community as well as they are often moving neighborhoods, schools, and in some cases even states or countries. Because of this it’s important to help them develop new bonds and/or find ways to maintain relationships from their old community (if it’s safe and viable to do so).

About the Author: Jenn Ehlers

Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, anything and everything Harry Potter, and spending time with her niece and nephew.

**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.

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