One of my favorite books to read with kids in therapy is How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath.
In this book, a young boy named Felix learns that each of us has an invisible bucket, which represents our happiness level. As Felix goes through his day, different interactions either fill or empty his bucket little by little. Negative interactions, like being teased by others or being mean to his sister, empty Felix’s bucket. Positive interactions, like doing well in school or being nice to a new classmate, help to fill Felix’s bucket.
Reading this book with kids in therapy provides a great lead in to discussing with them the things in their own life that either fill or empty their bucket. A few other books use the same metaphor, like Have You Filled a Bucket Today? and Growing Up with a Bucket Full of Happiness. These books and the bucket metaphor lend themselves well to interactive and creative activities for children, groups, or families.
Hands on activities and art help to reinforce what kids are learning from the book.
Here are some ideas:
1. What fills your bucket? — Draw a picture of a bucket on a piece of paper. Brainstorm with the child about things that help fill their bucket and write or draw pictures of these ideas inside the bucket. Outside of the bucket, write down or draw the things that might take water out of their bucket.
2. Origami bucket — Create an origami cup with with child (12×12 scrapbooking paper is perfect for this) to stand in for a bucket. Cut out several drops of water on paper. On each paper water drop, write or draw a picture of a coping skill, activity, or person that helps to fill the child’s bucket. Send this home with them to have as a reminder of positive coping. See directions for making an origami cup here: “Origami Drinking Cup Instructions.”
3. Fill someone else’s bucket group activity — Read the book with the group and then give each child a bucket (e.g., origami cup buckets or inexpensive plastic buckets). Discuss with the group about the ways that they can fill their own bucket and that of others, including providing compliments to others. Each group member is given a stack of paper shapes to write down a compliment for each of the other group members. Group members then take turns receiving the compliments and filling their bucket. Group members not only practice providing compliments to others, they each then have a reminder of positive things about themselves. (Read a great blog post about a school counselor’s bucket-filling activity in a self-esteem group: “Compliments, Self-Esteem, and Bucket-Filling!”)
4. Family buckets — After reading a bucket-filling book in a family session, try one of the above activities with the whole family. Help family members to recognize how their actions may dip from the buckets of others and how they can help fill them up. For homework, send home buckets (e.g., origami ones can be made and decorated in session for extra creativity), ask them to hang them up together, and have them put compliments and appreciations in each others buckets throughout the week.
Have you tried these or other creative interventions using the bucket-filling metaphor? I’d love to hear about them!
Carolyn Mehlomakulu, LMFT-S, ATR is an art therapist in Austin, Texas who works with children, teens, and families. For more information about individual therapy, teen and child counseling, family therapy, teen group therapy, and art therapy services, please visit: www.therapywithcarolyn.com.
This blog is not intended to diagnose or treat any mental health conditions. All directives, interventions, and ideas should be used by qualified individuals within the appropriate bounds of their education, training, and scope of practice. Information presented in this blog does not replace professional training in child and family therapy, art therapy, or play therapy.
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