What ‘Frozen 2’ Taught Me As A Parent
A bold choice had an unexpected—and lasting—impact on this pediatrician-dad!
by Steve Silvestro, MD @zendocsteve
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My kids are now 12 and almost 10, which means that when the first Frozen came out in 2013, they were the prime age for it to rock their world.
The soundtrack was on an endless loop in my house. We obsessively watched the multi-language version of “Let It Go.” We were constantly finishing each other’s…sandwiches. And I lobbied hard that the most underappreciated song was “Reindeers Are Better Than People.” (Sven thinks I’m right).
So when Frozen 2 came out a full six years later and my kids were now a tween girl in middle school and a 4th-grade boy into Minecraft and rock music, I was afraid that they wouldn’t be interested in seeing it—that they’d moved on.
How wrong I was! Leading up to the release, my daughter had the original movie’s soundtrack on full blast once again, and even my son talked about looking forward to seeing it when his cousins came for Thanksgiving.
Their verdict when we finally saw it? A hit! Despite worries that it would be too dark or action-packed for littles—the kids who are now the age mine were when the first movie came out—Frozen 2 hit a sweet spot for those of us who’ve grown a bit since the last movie.
And that wasn’t a mistake—a few minutes into the film, Olaf looks right into the camera and says, “You all look a little bit older!” Disney was fully aware that time has passed and we’ve all changed a bit since we last met, and they’ve respected that transformation with themes and lessons fit for everyone—but best appreciated by those who are now six years older. My son walked out of the theater exclaiming: “That was so much deeper than the first!”
I, too, left with something that resonated with me deeply, both as a parent and a person—and it was something I didn’t expect. The heaviest moment in the whole film—Anna’s song “The Next Right Thing”—struck a chord in more ways than one.
In case you haven’t guessed, there are some pretty big ‘Frozen 2’ spoilers ahead!
A WAY OUT OF THE DARK
While “Let It Go” is the emotional breakthrough song of the first movie, that nod in Frozen 2 clearly goes to Kristen Bell’s performance of “The Next Right Thing.” But rather than speaking about breaking barriers and stepping into your true self, this one comes at the emotional low point of the film: Anna alone and lost in a cave, thinking both Olaf and Elsa dead, and that Kristoff has abandoned her.
The song starts from a dark, gut-wrenching place that so poignantly illustrates the depths of despair—not what I expected walking into a Frozen movie, but no less powerful for it. In fact, Jonathan Groff, the voice of Kristoff, said that he was brought to tears the first time he heard it. And knowing that Kristen Bell has been outspoken about her own battles with depression and anxiety makes this song especially moving.
So does a few years’ maturity. The world has changed since 2013 and, well, we’ve been through a few things. Politics, civility, our hair color…all worse for the wear. Our kids, too, have grown up some since then—they’ve had challenges with friends, harder schoolwork, their own share of ups and downs.
And we adults? Well, we’ve been “adulting” a bit longer now. There’s definitely something to the way every generation seems to believe the state of the world is somehow “worse” than when they were kids, when in reality all that’s really changed is that they’re more clued into larger issues that feel out of our control.
We’ve all had a few rough patches these last six years. And the obvious gift of “The Next Right Thing” is a clear roadmap through those moments: When things seem darkest, when looking too far ahead is too much for you to take,
“…break it down to this next breath
This next step
This next choice is the one that [you] can make.”
The world’s problems—even just your own family’s problems—can sometimes seem too big to tackle, or maybe so unbearable it seems there’s no way to fix them.
But they don’t have to be dealt with in one fell swoop.
The way out of every challenging moment, no matter how hard or how painful, starts by taking a breath and then one single first step.
WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO
Of course, “The Next Right Thing” resonates so deeply because it offers more than just advice out of dark emotional caves. Not everything that’s happened in the last six years has been emotionally draining. We’ve been raising kids! That’s easy, right?
My kids have brought so much joy to my life, I wouldn’t give up any moment we’ve experienced together for the world. But I’m twelve years into this whole “Dad” thing and I’m still figuring it out as I go—and I’m even considered a “parenting expert!“
Halfway into Frozen 2, Olaf hilariously sings: “This will all make sense when I am older…When I’m more mature/I’ll feel totally secure”—and the parents in the audience laugh a bit louder than the kids.
The in-joke, of course, is that every parent watching knows that that’s not true. Our kids, like Olaf, don’t know that we’re just making this up as we go along. Growing up means recognizing that the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know—and that there is no instruction manual.
And nowhere do we feel the pressure of uncertainty more than when raising our kids—especially today. We live in an age when everything we do comes under the microscope—not even necessarily other people’s microscopes, but our own. Modern parenting involves analyzing and picking apart every single decision we make, constantly catastrophizing and worrying we’re going to mess our kids up and doom them forever.
I see it with parents in my pediatric practice all the time—they’re inundated with advice from grandparents, friends, faceless experts on social media. Through no fault of their own, they’re pulled in every direction, left feeling that every parenting choice, no matter how small, can have a lifelong impact on their kids—and it stresses them out to no end.
But the truth is that very few of the choices we make each day run the risk of irreversibly harming our kids. Parents are often relieved to hear me say that, and it’s true. Kids are resilient. They bounce back. Parents do, too, when we get out of our own way.
Rather than getting overwhelmed when you feel like you’re just winging it, beset by fears and opinions left and right, there’s really only one way forward—just like Anna, do the next right thing.
That feeling in your gut, the one that struck before your head confused the matter with self-doubt and questioning—that’s the step to take. And if it’s a misstep, then just take a breath and correct it with the next one.
A PERMA-LESSON FOR KIDS
A few guests on my podcast have talked about the importance of “family culture,” like a family motto or philosophy.
It’s a great idea—having some sort of underlying, universal approach to life that you and your kids can use and rely on. But aside from, say, “Be kind” (which is a perfectly good one for sure), it’s not so easy to come up with an inspiring phrase that neatly wraps up both action and attitude for your family.
Thanks to Anna (and songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez), I think I’ve found one.
Since seeing Frozen 2 a couple of weeks ago, I’ve already found myself encouraging my kids to “do the next right thing”—and so far, not only has it worked, they haven’t given me any dirty looks when I say it!
It’s a lesson in determination. Unsure of how to approach a big homework project? Take a breath, break it down into steps, then do the next right thing.
It’s a lesson in values and relationships. Unsure of how to navigate the perils of middle school friendships? Take a breath, think about what feels right and fair, then do the next right thing.
Doing “the next right thing” is a simple, straightforward idea kids of all ages can understand, and it makes for a perfect cornerstone of your family culture.
MAKING THE CHOICE
I’m not ashamed to admit that I can sing any Disney tune with the best of ‘em. And my family knows that that I’m easily moved by music and song.
But I didn’t walk into Frozen 2 expecting to be moved as deeply by one of its songs as I was—just like I didn’t expect the film to go to such a heavy, gritty moment in the first place.
Disney and the Frozen team made a bold choice to tackle mature emotions in the midst of a movie with a goofy talking snowman. And it was a wise choice. Not only does “The Next Right Thing” normalize conversations about depression and grief, it offers a clear, simple, inspiring plan of action that kids and adults can use to rise through any of life’s challenges.
By the end of the song, Anna makes the choice to move forward one step at a time and eventually makes her way out into the sunlight. By taking a breath and making what feels like one right choice at a time, Anna shapes herself into the person who ultimately saves the day for everyone.
It’s a lesson I’ll be using with my family—and with myself—not just for the next six years, but well into the unknown ahead.
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a pediatrician and host of The Child Repair Guide Podcast. His articles may or may not be reviewed by a talking reindeer.