We’re the Bucket Family

A few years ago my family started using the bucket analogy. I’m not sure where it came from anymore, but I do know that these days we talk about buckets every day. Every single day.

Since discovering that highly sensitive is part and parcel of my family we have tried to talk about what that means with each other, and what we need from each other to feel okay at home and, where relevant, in school.

That meant being able to talk to a four year old about being highly sensitive in a way that he could understand. And so the bucket was born. (See here for a printable bucket activity to help your HSC.)

We explained to our HSC that everything he hears, sees, touches, tastes and smells ends up in his invisible bucket. Every interaction he has with a classmate or the teacher, every experience he has, gets thrown into his bucket. At the age of four he had no filter. He couldn’t determine what experience, taste or sight was worth holding on to, and what needed to be thrown away. So everything that happened to him during the morning at school went into his bucket. And he brought that bucket home with him at lunchtime.

Sometimes so much had happened in a morning that his bucket would overflow. That meant tears. It meant he’d be overwhelmed. It meant he couldn’t carry his bucket anymore.

And so we would spend lunch time emptying that bucket by talking about his morning, helping him determine what could be thrown out, what he could let go of. Playing with lego, listening to calming music, a relaxation CD, a story – all things that helped him empty his bucket.

If he had managed to empty his bucket out, a least half of it, then he’d go back to school. If not, we’d spend the afternoon working on getting the unnecessary stuff out of the bucket.

Four years on, our bucket analogy is going strong. The words, “Go up to your room so you can empty your bucket,” are uttered every day.

My middle son (now four and looking more and more like he is following in his older brother’s highly sensitive footsteps) also expresses how he feels in terms of how full he is, or how full his bucket is. He’s picked up on us using it with his brother and made it his own too. In fact, I also have a bucket now – and I make very clear to my children when that is dangerously close to filling to the top.

I’ve talked about the bucket approach in other posts before and people have contacted me to say they have adopted it and it works for them too. It’s something our highly sensitive children can grasp and work with. And when they are so young, unable to express their feelings adequately, it turns out that the bucket is a tool that really helps them.

Yes, ok, outsiders and onlookers sometimes give you strange looks when you start the bucket talk outside the home, but it’s like a little family secret – which makes it even more special for the kids.

Bucket Family

So join us, become a bucket family today.

Time to share: what tools do you use to get your young HSC to talk about how they feel? What tools do you use to help your HSC learn to filter the world around them?


About Amanda van Mulligen

Mother, writer, author, blogger. Born British, Living Dutch. I have three Dutch sons and a Dutch husband and I blog about Turning Dutch and raising highly sensitive children.
This entry was posted in HS Tools and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to We’re the Bucket Family

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  10. Suqi Ng says:

    Hi, Amanda! Thank you for this blog post and your helpful resources on the bucket activity. I tried it out with my four year old highly sensitive boy yesterday. I’d like your advice on whether we did it right. Apologies for my lengthy post and lots of questions!

    My boy recently showed signs of HSC. He drove us crazy telling us about his fears every night. There was once we brought him to a science exhibition and one of the exhibition scared him so much, he would talk endlessly about it, and usually only during bedtime when he has no distraction from his thoughts and he started to ruminate about what frightened him. He talked about his fear of the exhibition every night for a week! When that passed, he developed a fear of his teacher asking him whether he needs to go to the toilet. We assured him that we have spoken to the teacher and she will respect his wish to bring him to toilet only when he tells her that he needs to, and she will not ask him to go to the toilet. But he kept asking the “what if…” question. “What if teacher forgets? What if teacher continue to ask me?” Two nights ago, he spoke to us about this during bedtime from 10pm to midnight! He had insomnia thinking about this fearful event. He was yawning but he couldn’t sleep. He kept tossing and turning and the next morning, he threw an intense tantrum. Then I chanced about your advice and we did the bucket activity with him. It was amazing. He was thrilled to see that bucket and quickly filled it in with rainbow colours. I asked him to close his eyes and think about what “fill his bucket”. I described the bucket as his heart or his mind. What filled it are those things that caused him to keep thinking and thinking about it and disturbed him. He told us several things like the toilet issue (that was a huge water droplet), and seeing his classmates playing rough and pushing other classmates. Then I asked him what activities can help him calm down and “empty the bucket”. He said watching his favorite cartoon videos and playing with Playdoh. After the activity, he said that thinking about those “fillers” made him really mad. And he wants to play with Playdoh now. So we allowed him to play. He slept very well that night.
    Some questions that we are curious about.
    1. Would thinking about the fillers caused HSC to be disturbed? He said that affected him a lot.
    2. He seemed to think of the fillers as events that made him fearful, worried, and angry; and emptiers as events that made him happy and relaxed. Is that correct? Sometimes happy events can be overstimulating too right? How do we properly explain this to a four year old?
    3. Should we do this bucket activity daily?
    4. We can only afford to do this at night because morning is impossible due to the morning rush to school/work. Is it optimal to do this activity at the start of the day or at the end of the day?

    Some background info: We are a family living in Singapore. We practise attachment parenting with both your 4 year old son and 2 year old daughter. My 4 year old started Kindergarten in Jan 2016. He started out alright! No tears, no separation anxiety. My husband and I work full time so we bring him to school in the morning and his grandma will pick him up and bring him to her home after his school. He’s very familiar and comfortable with grandma because she takes care of him since he was a baby.

    Please feel free to email me if you wish to. 🙂


    • Suqi,

      First of all I’m delighted that the bucket activity has helped! (https://happysensitivekids.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/a-bucket-activity-for-highly-sensitive-children-with-free-printable/)

      There is no right or wrong with the activity – do it as it is needed, daily, weekly, whenever you see that it would help. If you have a particularly busy week coming up then look at that together at the beginning of the week. If he comes home from school and you see that he is ‘full’ then sit together to establish why.

      The idea is that once you identify what fills your child’s bucket you can work on handling those situations better with him, avoiding those situations if necessary or possible, or working out how to best recover from those filling days (the bucket emptiers). It’s fantastic that he can already establish what fills and empties his bucket at the age of four so that is a great start! Fear of the toilet issue in school for example: look to the why. How you can help him get over that fear? Maybe the teacher talking to him would help for example – why is he fixated on the issue? If you can identify the what, you can start looking at the why and how to counteract that.

      Fillers are not always fears or things that you worry about. They can indeed be happy events – like a birthday party or a day out somewhere. Overexcitement can be a filler! They can also be spontaneous things that happened at school or home. However, those things that fill a child’s bucket can indeed be the things they worry about, fear, get angry about. This bucket exercise won’t take their fears away, but it gives you a chance to talk about them. His classmates playing roughly with each other is a great example of opening up a dialogue with him – why does it upset him? What can he do about it next time he sees it? It’s a conversation starter about things that a HSC cannot handle, overwhelms them or stirs up emotions.

      As to sleep issues – HSCs process deeply. They go over information in their head they have picked up in the day and bed time is a common time to be mulling that all over – it’s quiet, he has your attention and his body is calm – giving the floor to his mind. Have you tried relaxation CD’s (this is a great series: https://happysensitivekids.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/relax-kids-book-and-cd-review-meditations-for-children/) so that he can try to switch his mind off too? If he needs to talk, then give him that chance, but it is often best to do that before bed time – the less sleep he has the more of a problem everything is the next day of course!

      In short – the bucket exercise should be used in a way that helps your son – adapt it to your needs and see it as a way of starting dialogue about your child’s concerns. It’s great that he has emptiers lined up which really help him – add to that list and that will help him a lot along the way.


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  24. I love this analogy. I’ve thought about it every single day since I read about it here, and soon I’ll be introducing it to my son. I’m sure it would help him understand his feelings better. Thank you Amanda!

    Liked by 1 person

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