Fill your child’s emotional cup with these tips

We love a good metaphor. Oftentimes, it’s the perfect way to explain something that isn’t all that easy to say, or just too big and difficult to understand. Like that crazy little thing called love, all those other good and bad emotions we feel, or the key to lifelong happiness. 

Of course, all those things are mutually exclusive and we come to know that as we grow up, but it’s important that children, for their own development, are aware of the many ups and downs they’ll go through in life that may affect the way they feel and behave.  

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, mother of four with a Bsc in Psychology, says in The Gentle Discipline Book we all know the feeling of being so on edge we can explode at any moment. "The difference is that, as adults, we have the brain development necessary to control our responses,” she explains.


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We recently came across a resource from Upbility – a publisher of therapy resources – with a great metaphor to explain emotions to children while also equipping them with the things they’ll need in order to manage their responses. The image talks of a child’s emotional cup – what empties it, ways children deal with an empty cup, and what fills it so they can ensure it’s always full.  


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The cup is a metaphor for positive emotions. So if your child's cup is full it means they’re content and happy. Sometimes when a child may find their cup is empty, they may try to “steal from other people's cups”, or in simpler terms, steal from their happiness, or “bounce off the walls when they approach empty” – react in a less that savoury way. 

Ockwell-Smith explains that violent behaviour does often occur when a child feels vulnerable, anxious or as if they have no control over a situation. This has to do with their inability to regulate their emotions, she says. 

So while they speak of things to be aware of that may empty a child’s cup, Upbility also lists the following ways in which you can fill it: 

  • play
  • friendship
  • one-on-one time
  • love and affection
  • connection
  • succeeding
  • doing what they love to do or what they choose to do 


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Use the emotional cup to explain to your kids why it’s important for them to identify how they’re feeling, to come to you if they are running on empty, and what they can do to ensure their cup is always full. 

Emphasise the importance of always taking care of themselves and their mental health (and no, selfishness will not fill up the cup). 

Remind them that no matter what they do, they can never pour from an empty cup. 

Chat back:

Which coping mechanisms do you and your family have in place to deal with negative emotions? Tell us and we can share it with our readers.

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