Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:
Paw Patrol: The Movie (2021) certainly took me by surprise as being a great film for children with trauma backgrounds. Granted, I’ll admit that I am very new to the Paw Patrol world so I am not sure how the pups are each added to the Patrol team but I never considered the subject of adoption to pop up as it did with this movie.
The target audience appears to be children who are toddler-aged and up. It also appears this movie would be best for any family to view, including foster and adoptive families. This film addresses a title character revisiting their pre-adoptive home and working through the emotions and memories of the past with the support of loved ones. This subject matter is handled with great care and can spark some meaningful conversation with your little ones about working through hard memories and emotions, relying on meaningful relationships during times of distress, and reframing experiences.
** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **
How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?
This is a wonderful opportunity to connect children with trauma with their emotions and thoughts through the experience of Chase, the police-themed German Shepherd pup. It’s revealed through the course of the movie that Chase was abandoned as a very small puppy in Adventure City prior to his adoption with Ryder. He then moved to Adventure Bay (where the majority of the Paw Patrol series occurs) and along with Ryder became integral to the Paw Patrol Team due to his ability to scale heights and rescue people using grappling and zipline equipment. However, when the team is summoned to help Adventure City, Chase’s eager “on the case” demeanor immediately disappears and he becomes insecure, fearful, and irritable in response to various trauma triggers while on the job. Children with trauma may relate to these seemingly random and out of control feelings and resulting behaviors as this reflects how younger children often respond to trauma triggers. As a result caregivers will have the opportunity to give their children the chance to learn language to connect their feelings to behavior and better communicate their needs for support as Chase learns with Ryder.
- Working Through Hard Memories
This is an area that’s hard even for adults! I remember walking through an old school as an adult once and feeling very on edge throughout the visit. Even as a trauma-informed social services professional it took me a while to realize that even though I was no longer a student dealing with bullying and fear my body was reacting to the stimuli around me! As a result I needed to take some time to work through some of these hard memories to help my adrenaline and cortisol-filled brain understand that I was not in danger. While I have tools to connect my past experiences and feelings to my physical responses and therefore my behavior… Most little kids who are drawn to Paw Patrol have likely not had the chances to learn about that yet. So with Chase’s triggering to memories in Adventure City you, the caregiver, can start to help your child build these skills and learn how to use skills such as identifying how feelings from memories can affect behavior now.
- Relying on Trusting Relationships
I certainly felt for Chase as he struggled so hard with these hard emotions alone. While we would think that Chase should have easily been able to talk to Ryder and the other teammates about these hard memories and feelings, the truth is that level of vulnerability is hard at any age. Caregivers often think that children are more capable of asking for help than they truly are and struggle when a child has held in stress and frustration until they explode. This is completely understandable, but rather than continuing to tell your child to ask for help, caregivers will often need to respond more like Ryder and be prepared to check in with your child and initiate help in response to behavior cues. Caregivers can become attuned to their child’s behavior, which is a non-verbal form of communication, while teaching them the words to use to ask for help as they grow.
- Reframing Difficult Situations
While in Adventure City it’s understandable that Chase wrestled with some pretty hard memories. Being abandoned, the fear of being alone, nearly being hit by a bus, and other events are plenty of reasons to have such an intense response to returning to a painful place from the past. However, over the course of the movie Chase learns that while Adventure City had memories of pain and sadness there were also memories that were meaningful and full of love. This included meeting Ryder and being adopted. Caregivers can often observe children’ struggling with their child’s introduction to the family in the same way. Adoption can be an absolutely beautiful experience, but caregivers need to remember that adoption is not possible without intense personal loss for their child. And these losses need to be honored and respected as Ryder did with Chase. Later as Chase grieved and worked through his emotions Ryder was able to also remind Chase of some good memories that are allowed to live alongside those difficult times though. While Adventure City was a place of loss, it was simultaneously also what led Chase to being adopted by his best friend, Ryder, and joining the Paw Patrol, who he loved very very much. Children may need help from caregivers to take space to honor hard emotions but also reframe perspective as they heal and identify lovely memories as well. This can be tricky, as younger children have not developed abstract thinking and can’t imagine having multiple feelings attached to an event (think to Inside Out with how the feelings realize they can share memories). However, over time and lots of patience and space to honor and process the sad parts your child can work through all of these tricky emotions and potentially in time develop the same reframing as Chase.
- Some Moments of Peril and Danger
Thankfully, this movie is one with little worry of graphic violence and pain. There are no guns or other weapons of that sort and no one appears to suffer from long-term or permanent pain. However it is important for caregivers to remember that children with trauma often have some struggles with processing stressful events logically due to the overuse of the stress activation systems in the brain. This can mean that good excitement from seeing a fun or suspenseful movie can be confused by the child’s brain for danger and flood the brain with adrenaline and cortisol and result in seemingly self-sabotaging behavior. Caregivers should note this is a very normal response to excitement for children with trauma and be prepared to offer support to help their child connect their feelings to behavior and (with lots of practice) counteract this response with co-regulation and self-soothing techniques. So as a result caregivers should be advised that there are exciting situations in the movie that reflect similar events from the series including vehicle crashes, large-scale weather events, pedestrians (animals and humans) nearly being hit by vehicles, reckless driving, a runaway train system functioning like a broken roller coaster, falling elevators, building structure issues, and fireworks/explosion events. Most of these events are largely exaggerated and do not appear to reflect realistic emergencies and so the rescue responses are equally exaggerated as well.
- Weather-Related Triggers
One of the larger plot lines in the film involves a machine that can absorb bad weather and ensure good weather. However at one point the machine malfunctions and releases weeks of bad weather all at once leading to intense thunder and windstorms. While not every child may respond to this potential trigger, children with traumatic experiences with such storms may need extra support after viewing this film.
- Abandonment of Title Character
Most of the film revolves around Chase working through his feelings of abandonment and rejection from the past in the present. In response to triggers Chase is shown to run away, freeze in fear, react impulsively and irritably, and forgetfulness. These are all very normal trauma reactions for children and adults and can be helpful in relating children to their own experiences. However, Chase’s memories and responses to abandonment and rejection may bring up your child’s own experiences with such theming and result in some reactivity in your child as well so caregivers should be prepared to offer support to their child if they appear to be responding to the trauma Chase experienced.
- Comic Mischief
There is the utterance of the word “poop” in a way adults may use another scat-related term adults may use. There are also sequences of goons kidnapping Chase and engaging in slapstick humor.
- Depiction of Jail
Chase and Liberty are puppy-napped and locked up in an old Obedience School that is used and depicted like a jail setting. For children who have experiences of parent or relative incarceration and arrest this may be potentially triggering and result in some discussion about such events. Caregivers should be prepared to offer support in the event this is needed by their child.
NOTE: Inclusion on these lists does not necessarily mean endorsement. Furthermore, with all our resources, we highly recommend you preview them first to determine if there are any trauma triggers that your child may not be ready to handle. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its reviews 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.