Discussion Guide:

  1. Why were Milly and Joe shy to greet their father at the train station?
    Caregiver Note: Traumatic events may or may not leave physical scars like Holt’s amputated arm. For Milly and Joe, it was difficult to take in a vision of their father that was different from the one in their minds. In addition to Holt’s physical reminder of his time served in war, the children also notice that he acts differently, gruff and distant from years of high stress and grief. Trauma can affect how someone acts and even responds to affection. This can be a great discussion to talk about how invisible scars provide a challenge for bonding.
  2. Why was Holt trying so hard to hold on to the circus life in spite of the push back from his children and Max Madici?
    Caregiver Note: Holt fought through a long, hard war and as a result, lost his arm, jeopardizing future employment as an equestrian performer. He also lost his beloved wife and costar to illness while he was away. Holt is certainly holding a significant amount of trauma compounded by the stress of needing to provide for the family he has left. When people are under immense stress, they often seek comfort in something familiar. Emotional eaters turn to favorite foods, small children scream for a favored toy or blanket as a comfort object, and adults often immerse themselves in experiences that help them escape from stress. This can be an excellent question to open discussion about what things children or youth may cling to for comfort, which will help caregivers in more accurately reading non-verbal communication in behaviors.
  3. How do you think Dumbo felt after his mother, Mrs. Jumbo, was taken away? Have you ever felt like that? What did you feel? How did you act?
    Caregiver Note: This question can open up discussion to give names to emotions. Children or youth may or may not feel comfortable with talking about a removal situation, so let this discussion go strictly at the child or youth’s pace. If the child wishes to focus on another perceived loss, this is okay too. The bigger take away for this question is to help the child or youth in connecting words to feelings, then feelings to behaviors, not to potentially re-traumatize the child. You may want to solely talk about Dumbo and his feelings if you feel it may be too traumatic for your child to talk about their own caregiver separation(s).
  4. Why do you think Dumbo needed a feather to fly?
    Caregiver Note: As adults, caregivers may already know the answer to this. Sometimes when things seem daunting and scary, we recreate situations to help us cope with the stress. Don’t believe me? Think about your friend who wears their lucky jersey for his team’s football games or your college roommate who had a lucky pair of underwear for exams. Do these lucky charms or rituals actually cause the team to win or the roommate to pass the exams? Not directly, but with a boost of confidence from that charm or ritual being in place, it may help how a person experiences the event. This is the same for Dumbo, who uses his ears to fly and not a magical feather at all. Children or youth in care may sometimes have rituals or their own “lucky charms” that caregivers may need to have sensitivity towards. Open up a discussion about such things that help relieve stress and tension for your child or youth.
  5. Activity: Lucky Feather
    Caregiver Note: For this activity you will need an assortment of larger feathers (yours and the child’s choice of colors or types), string strong enough for a necklace, beads, glue, and colorful objects that can be glued onto the feather. Use the materials to make a feather necklace with your child. Discuss with your child how Dumbo used the feather to get himself through the impossible task of flight. Allow your child to have access to the feather necklace and use the necklace to communicate non-verbally when they need more support when dealing with the impossible.
  6. Why did Colette and Dumbo need safety nets even though they practiced over and over again? What sort of “safety nets” do you need sometimes?
    Caregiver Note: Children and youth in care are often tasked with developing coping skills with their therapists and case workers to help them cope with stressful events, intense emotions, and unsafe behaviors. These skills are discussed in sessions and practiced often to help a child administer these skills to slow down and think through their feelings and behaviors rather than be carried away by impulse. Coping skills are very important for the individual, but in the timeframe of learning what coping skills are most effective, children may need help co-regulating their emotions, meaning having help from an adult to bring calm to the chaotic mind. Help your child or youth think of “safety nets” you can provide as a trusted adult to help when the feelings get too big and a bigger net is needed to protect your child or youth.
  7. How did all the circus performers use their differences to save Mrs. Jumbo? What’s something only you can do that could help someone?
    Caregiver Note: Throughout the film it’s evident that the Medici Brother’s Circus is home to several performers that are considered societal outcasts. However, while each performer has something that makes them stand out from other people physically, each of them also has traits that help them save Mrs. Jumbo. Children or youth from care may feel that they have something about them that makes them different and isolated from their peers. For example, some youth may struggle with their identity as a foster youth and the disruption in normalcy they have experienced. However, with that difference maybe that child has developed compassion and empathy for others who have gone through loss or a youth has developed a wicked sense of humor that can be used to cheer up others who are hurting. Though we don’t wish trauma on anyone, a child or youth learning to take the parts of them that have grown in adversity and use them for something positive can promote better self-esteem and overall wellbeing as a result.
  8. Milly throughout the film sticks out from the circus performers and her father because of her interest in science and the scientific method.  How does she use her interest in science to help her father, Holt?
    Caregiver Note: This is another question that can help children with the concept that different does not mean “bad.” Throughout the film, Holt struggles to understand his daughter’s deviance from the family business of circus performance in favor of experiments and the scientific method. Because he has so little exposure to STEM subjects ,he fails to see how rats and flags can connect to his world. Milly finding a way to communicate connection and care for her father provides a strong moment for the two to imagine how science could influence their family for the better. This question can help children or youth think through ways they can communicate using things they care about such as music, food, favorite subjects in school, etc. and even potentially expand their interests or hobbies.
  9. What changes came to the Medici Circus because of Dumbo and the Farrier family’s advocacy?Caregiver Note: It’s important for children and youth to learn not only to self-advocate but also to think through desired outcomes for change. After the events at Dreamland, the audience sees that the circus no longer uses wild animals in captivity for entertainment, and Vandevere is arrested and tried for his shady business dealings concerning the animals in his care. This means that the Farrier’s not only were able to help Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo but circus animals as a whole to return to the lives they were meant to live. And because of the restructuring, the Farriers were also each able to pursue their dreams and thrive as a family.
  10. How do you think Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo will survive in the wild? What kinds of challenges and wins may they experience in the wild compared to living in captivity in the circus?
    Caregiver Note: This is a great question to help children and youth think about the journey home for cases in foster care that are going to reunify. As an audience to a Disney film, we only see Mrs. Jumbo and Dumbo enjoying life out in the wild, and while this is a good ending for a movie, there may be unseen challenges for two elephants who have potentially never lived in the wild together. Explore the different challenges they could face and how their strengths could benefit them in facing these challenges for a strength-based discussion.

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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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