A Bag Half Empty :: A Teachable Moment About Feelings



We were driving north on I-25 on this particular day, headed to some appointment or another after a full day of work/school. I had given the kids snacks: a drink and a bag of something crunchy.

Everyone was happy until they weren’t.

One of the kids had dropped their bag. In an effort to catch the bag, they had grabbed it by the end, so the bag started dumping out all over the floor. That child started crying about their lost snack, while I inwardly groaned about the carpet I had vacuumed just the day before. Cereal

An older child tried to make the first be quiet by covering his mouth with his hand. This added anger and frustration to the first child’s list of feelings. In this anger, he bit his brother. Their sister saw all of this and began to hit the first child. This did not help to calm the situation.

As I drove north on I-25 in the middle of Albuquerque with no quick place to turn off or pull over, I listened to the rising chaos behind me. This was more than a bag half empty. We were all working off of half-empty.

There’s a children’s book entitled “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” written by Carol McCloud. The librarian at the school I teach at reads it to all her classes each year.

As the anger, crying, and yelling in the backseat spread and grew, I thought of the bucket book. But, in my head, instead of buckets we had snack bags.

My screaming-angry children were stealing from each other’s invisible “snack bags” when they could have been filling them up. At this point, we all had a bag half empty.

I quietly said my daughter’s name, “Are you filling up buckets or taking from them?” She stopped hitting and screaming.

The other two were still going to town, getting louder and angrier. I’m pretty sure no one had a snack left at this point–literally and figuratively.

I gently said my oldest son’s name, “Are you filling up buckets or taking from them?” He left his grumpy face on, but moved his body toward the window in contemplation.

My youngest hasn’t heard the bucket story from our librarian yet, but I began to explain that everyone has an invisible bucket.

I understood that he was upset about his lost snack. The spilled snack had dipped and taken from his bucket. Then I asked what each one of us could do in order to help fill up each other’s buckets again.

While none of the three offered to vacuum the car floors, their caring ideas and thoughtfulness went a pretty far way toward refilling my “snack bag.” After the older two decided to share a bit of their snacks with the youngest and apologize, the youngest also apologized. Everyone was calm and peaceful (for a few minutes at least). 

Saying that my kids haven’t fought or been mean to each other since then would be an absolute lie. However, we all have a frame of reference for dealing with struggles and disappointment. All it takes is a reminder now.

That’s the story of how the bag half empty taught us to think of other people’s feelings. How do you find those teachable moments? What’s your story?