Filling Your Child’s Cup

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I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that my 5 year old has been extra needy lately. I thought once school started it would get easier, but now he’s cranky and challenging me even more when he gets home from school. 

I remember learning somewhere in my training to be a therapist that if you’re feeling annoyed by a child, they are probably needing your attention.

I’ve been trying to do a little better at giving him attention. I get him to help with little tasks and include him in making dinner when I can. But then that somehow always seems to back fire!

Last week for example, he noticed a lemon on the counter and asked if we could make lemonade. I was hesitant because I knew how messy it would be. Then I remembered a few days earlier I had told he and his brother that maybe we could make homemade lemonade one day, so I reluctantly agreed.

So, I let them squeeze the lemon juice into a cup and then pour it into their water bottles and they seemed to be having fun, but both of them insisted on adding more sugar. I could feel my temperature start to boil as I envisioned the sugar getting all over the floor. 

I tried to take a few deep breaths and remember that I was doing this to connect with them. Fortunately, no sugar was spilled, but of course he didn’t really like the lemonade because it was too sour.

After we made lemonade we went to Barnes and Noble to pick out a book because the boys had earned a free one for reading 10 books through their summer reading program.

You wouldn’t believe how difficult this little outing was!

They were fighting over who got their shoes on before we even got out the door. When we got there, the 5 year old wanted a book that wasn’t on the “free book” list and repeatedly asked why he couldn’t pick out a different book.

Despite multiple threats to leave with nothing, they eventually decided on their free books and we got back into the car to head home. My 7 year old accidentally sat in the opposite booster seat that he rode in on the way there and unknowingly drank the rest of his brother’s lemonade.

You would have thought he killed his dog! The waterworks ensued and just when I thought he was over it, the 7 year old shouted, “Heyyyyy!!!!!!! Charlie!!!!!”

The 5 year old had poured the little lemonade that he had left onto the 7 year old’s head. I was livid! I was so over his misbehavior at that point that I invoked the smack down of all punishments- no tech time!

Commence World War 3

Let me just say that the car ride home was way less pleasant than on the ride to the bookstore where both kids were happily drinking their homemade lemonade and dreaming of the new book they’d soon be getting.

Not only that, I then had to deal with the ramifications of taking away the 5 year old’s tech time while his big brother still got to have his. It felt like more of a punishment on me, then towards him.

I began to think maybe trying to go somewhere as simple as the bookstore in the afternoon on the first week of school was too much? Was I being too harsh?

A few minutes later, my husband came home from work and I was practically in tears. He gave me a break and took the boys out for pizza so that I wouldn’t have to cook and I stayed home to try to relax a little.

When I have free time, I often find myself looking at Pinterest so that’s what I was doing when I stumbled across this picture and it all started to make more sense. You can find the downloadable pdf here: https://upbility.net/blogs/news/the-emotional-cup#comments.

My 5 year old was acting out because he needed his cup filled. He was exhibiting all of the signs listed!

Ways That Children Deal With Having An Empty Cup

  1. They steal from other people’s cups- or in other words steal from their happiness, like when he poured the lemonade on his brother’s head.
  2. Misbehave to get your attention and show that they need a refill. This was definitely happening, as I mentioned before!
  3. Seem to have bottomless cups, or need “topping off.” Do you ever feel like the more attention you give your child, the more they seem to need? It’s because their cup must be empty and far from being “full” so adding a little attention (or even what feels like a lot) isn’t enough.

What Empties The Cup?

The cup is a metaphor for their emotions, so if a child’s cup is full they are content and happy. What leads to an empty cup will vary for each child, but what I realized was that my son’s cup was probably feeling empty because he was stressed by the start of a new school year.

He was having to make all new friends and adjust to a new routine in a new classroom. It might have even felt a little lonely for him. He was also definitely exhausted from having to get up super early and spend 7 hours in school.

What Fills a Child’s Cup?

So now that I know his emotional cup is running on empty, here are a few ways I can try to fill it:

  • Encourage Play- It would be so easy to let him watch tv or his iPad when he gets home from school to veg out, but I’ve tried to maintain consistent play dates at least once a week and encourage him to actually play with his toys with his brother.
  • One on One Time- Last week his brother had a play date at a friend’s house and we were able to have some 1:1 time. We went to a splash pad, got ice cream, and went on a play ground for a while. It was challenging for a bit, because his cup was so low that he demanded even more of my attention now that he was getting it. But I know that it was just what he needed and we did have a good time. Plus, it’s so much easier to manage one of my kids compared to having both of them by myself!
  • Love and Affection- I’ve always tried to tell my kids I love them, but I’m working on making a more conscious effort to say it more often.
  • Connection and Friendship- He got to have several of his school friends over this weekend for his birthday and I’ve seen a huge difference in his behavior. It’s probably a combination of all of these things that has helped.
  • Doing what they love to do or choose to do- How often do you let your child choose the activity for a family outing, without influencing their decision at all. This is a hard one, but can really help fill their cup and will be worth it in the long run!

If you think your child’s cup may be empty, think about whether they may be experiencing stress, loneliness, or fatigue. Then you can implement some of these strategies to fill their cup back up. Let me know which ones work for you!

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5 comments

  1. Wow! I do not have any kids yet, but that sounds really hard and stressful! I liked the way looking at it about filling a cup! It totally makes sense! Thank you for sharing!

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