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  • Macaile Hutt

How full is your cup today?

In our clinic, we utilize a lot of tools and strategies to help the kids we see understand their emotions, feelings, and current state of being in ways that are relatable to them. We often talk about feelings in colors or animals (like sadness being a big, blue, heavy elephant sitting on your heart,) and we try to give kids the tools they need in order to express the way they are feeling in a way that is conducive and appropriate to his or her environment. One of my favorite tools that we use with our kids is the notion that there is a cup that lives within us and is filled or emptied by everything we do, every single day. It’s fun for kids to draw pictures of what they think this cup may look like, and their imaginations never disappoint.



Once we’ve imagined what this cup looks like, we talk about the different choices we make that personally fill or empty our cups. The things that fill a child’s cup might be playing with friends, eating a preferred food, earning screen time, and playing sports. The things that might empty a child’s cup could be getting in trouble/grounded, getting in an argument with a friend, or being in a space that is too loud or busy. Discussing these at a personal level helps children understand their own role in filling or emptying their cups.

Once we have talked about this enough for it to start making sense, we can start applying it to everyday scenarios in a way that gives children the ability to express their feelings in a positive way. We use modeling techniques in order to help children find the verbiage within themselves to express the current state of their cup and what they might need in order to adjust or “even out.” An example of this might be “Mom, my cup got really empty running errands today. It was too loud and too busy. I tried really hard to be patient, but I feel like I need some alone time when we get home to refill my cup.” I encourage children to draw pictures or describe what it looks like to have an empty cup—tired, defeated, sad, or even slightly sick or unwell inside. We describe this in colors, animals, or even video game characters so they can start to recognize and identify this state of being before it becomes out of control. Alternatively, we talk about what a full and happy cup looks like—content, excited, calm, and ready to go. A full cup looks like a well-oiled car on a racetrack, ebbing and flowing with all of the bumps and curves in the road. A full cup feels good inside and helps us have good thoughts about those around us.

The next step in applying this to our everyday lives is to understand how our choices can impact the cups of those we love. We talk about the things that the kids believe fill up the cups of their parents, caregivers, teachers, siblings, and other loved ones. We talk about choices that we can make in order to help fill the cups of those we love when it seems like maybe their cups are running a little low. A hug, a compliment, a smile, or an act of service can go a really long way when someone’s cup needs a little boost. We help our kids learn to recognize what it might look like when their mom or sister or teacher has an empty cup so they can lend a little pour if they have some extra love to give.

We really encourage this conversation to be socialized amongst the family, and help this verbiage to be adopted into everyday life. It makes it easier for children to understand changing moods and emotions when a concrete and consistent tool is applied to it. For example, a death in the family can cause a lot of emotions and really big feelings to enter a household. But if the cup strategy has been applied, it can be explained to the child/children that when we experience a big loss, our cups might be emptied for longer than normal. We feel really sad and it takes extra “filling back up” in order for our cups to get back to a happy level. We can ask for patience and extra space in order for our family members to be patient with our cups and help us to fill our cups back up when they can.

Which brings me to the final (and arguably most important) point of understanding regarding the cup that lives inside of us—it’s impossible to fill someone else’s cup if our cup isn’t full. I’m talking to you, mama, daddy, grandparents, teachers. We must lead by example and make sure we are taking care of our own cups before we can expect ourselves to fill the cups of those we love. By adopting this principle into our homes, we allow safety and freedom in expressing when our cups are running low. We can lead by example by sharing true and honest feelings with our children, significant others, family members, and even coworkers by choosing to “check in with our cups” when needed and ask ourselves what we need in order to feel full.

Taking time for ourselves and filling our cups isn’t a selfish act, at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Taking the time to fill our own cups and learning how to practice asking those around us for help when we need it allows us to lead by example for the tiny eyes watching us. It also allows us to soak up enough juicy goodness into our own cups that we may have enough to share with those around us.


I challenge you to talk about our full and empty cups with those you love at home. Get silly, draw pictures, talk about the things that feel warm and soothing like hot chocolate and the things that feel rough and dry like sandpaper.


Check in with your family, your friends, and, most importantly, yourself.


How full is your cup today?

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