How to fill your child’s emotional cup

Just like adults, our children need to recharge.

Boy drinking from mug
When they are thirsty, they drink water.

When they are thirsty, they need water.

When they are hungry, they need food.

When they are tired, they need sleep.

And when they are emotionally upset, they need to reconnect with us and feel love.

They recharge to fill their bodies with the items needed to help them grow, and so they also need to fill the invisible emotional cup that assists them to express and process emotions throughout the day.

What is an emotional cup?

I love the metaphor used by Upbility- publishers of therapy resources, in the poster below, which clearly outlines what an emotional cup is and how parents can help to fill that emotional cup.

They ask you to imagine that your child has an imaginary cup needing to be filled with affection, attention, love and security.

Most children will have a full cup most of the time.

Those children who do not have full cups, have understood how they can refill these cups and then refill them as needed.

But, some children are near empty and become nervous or anxious, not knowing how to refill their cup.

An empty cup

Often times those children, whose cups are near empty, use behaviour patterns that are not favourable to try, in an anxious attempt, to fill their emotional cups.

These can be exhibited as:

  • Stealing from other people’s cups – choosing negative behaviour that will directly upset, hurt or impact someone else.
  • Misbehaving to get attention.
  • Are needy, clingy or require constant attention.
  • Are overly active, resulting in them not being still enough to recieve the required refill.
  • Push away any attempts of affection, attention, love or security.
  • Become more misbehaved, throw tantrums, shout, scream or ‘plays up’ as their emotional cup nears empty.
  • Are always competitive.
  • Are argumentative, violent or aggressive.
EQ poster
Image source: Upbility

What empties a child’s emotional cup ?

To understand how to refill your child’s emotional cup, it is important to understand what empties or drains it.

Some of the things that may trigger an empty cup are:

  • Stress or strain
  • Being rejected or thought of as too different from their peers
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Harsh punishments
  • Yelling
  • Parents fighting
  • School stress with regards to failing, not understanding the school work or exams
  • Fatigue
  • Unstable home environments
  • Non affectionate parents
  • Negativity
  • Being forced to do things they hate – playing a sport because mom paid, ect

What fills a child’s emotional cup?

Just like the negativity around a child can deplete their emotional cups, so positive experiences and displays of attention or affection can fill them.

Security is also an important factor, as children thrive on routine and feeling safe.

Other ways you can fill your child’s emotional cup is through :

  • Play
  • Friendship
  • One on one time
  • Love and displays of affection
  • Positive attention , for example listening to the childs concerns, opinions,ect
  • Succeeding
  • Parents who are visibly proud of their children
  • Doing activities and hobbies they enjoy
  • Positivity

In conclusion

There’s a saying that goes ….

Often the child who needs the most love most, will always ask for it in the most unloving ways – unknown

Before we pass judgement on our child’s emotional outburst or inappropriate behaviour, perhaps we should look at their emotional cups and see how we can help them fill those cups.