How we explain overwhelm to our 5 year old

Our sensitive girl, Miss Rabbit, has had some big melt down moments over the past year. I’ve blogged about it before and we were struggling with how to help her avoid getting to these melt down points. As time’s gone on, I mostly can now see these episodes approaching. Impeding doom with no clue of how to prevent it. As her Mum, I can only do so much. I can provide some calm or some distraction but I can’t control her emotions for her.

Unfortunately, trying to explain to a 5 year old that she was becoming overwhelmed and needed to find a way to calm down wasn’t an easy task. Labels like ‘anxious’ or ‘overwhelmed’ or ‘stressed’ aren’t easy to explain to a child. Emotions are hard enough to understand as adults and lets face it, many adults still struggle to monitor and control their emotions at times. When I happened across the bucket theory I felt like I finally had some tools in my kit that might help. And after a few months, I’m happy to report that the bucket idea has in fact made a massive difference to Rabbit.

Picture this, we all have or even are a bucket. When negative things happen they go into our bucket, when positive things happen they empty some out of our bucket. What fills our bucket is very individual, something might only add a few drops to one persons bucket but the same thing could fill another persons bucket. What empties our buckets is also individual. If things that fill your bucket keep happening without anything emptying the bucket then your bucket will become full and overflow (in Rabbit’s case an emotional melt down/tantrum). We all could learn a lot from the bucket idea. Self care stops us from over flowing!

Having a concrete idea that can be visualised has really helped Rabbit. We created a list of things she can do to empty her bucket from varying degrees of overwhelm and when she starts to become overwhelmed she now can show us on the thermometre beside the list where she is sitting and we can then look at different strategies to calm her back down.

This invisible bucket theory can be used in reverse where an empty bucket needs filling with positive experiences but the idea of over flowing fit better for Rabbit’s emotions and meltdowns. As a sensitive child she really takes on a lot which is what leads to her over flowing. Carrying a (emotionally) heavy bucket is exhausting.

We would love to hear what you do with your child to help them navigate and control their own emotions.

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