The Stress Bucket

16 Jul 2020

The Stress Bucket

Our AET training partner lead in the London Borough of Redbridge, Eva Freytas-Sanchez SEND Preparing for Adulthood Lead Officer shares her thoughts on ‘the stress bucket’.


I was teaching a group of teaching assistants about how to tackle behaviour and the importance of having parents on board when developing and implementing the strategies for their autistic sons and daughters.  I was interrupted by someone who thought that most of the time parents have a very different perspective about their children’s behaviour and they tend to exaggerate.  The children behaved very well in class but parents reported that this was not the case at home.

It reminded me of my own situation.  I could actually hear myself asking my daughter’s German Teacher, ‘could you please check the information? You have the wrong child; my daughter is no angel’. This was the same with every teacher. I don’t exaggerate, at least not all the time! My daughter’s behaviour was exemplary in class but this wasn’t the case at home. Something wasn’t right and it definitely wasn’t my fault.

With this in mind, I decided to share the ‘stress bucket tool’ with the class.  I drew a bucket and everyone started sharing little things that upset them during the day, such as: I can’t find the keys, the tube is delayed, the tube is too packed, there is no seat, I am late for work, the meeting has started and everyone is looking at me, I didn’t have time to have coffee, and the day goes on and on. It was only 9.30am!

As they were listing what could go wrong, I used a pen to draw a line in my bucket for every problem they mentioned, so they could see how it was getting full of stress/upsetting water. I could see the faces of some of my teaching assistant learners and I asked, ‘What are you thinking?’ one of them said, ‘the children are ok in my classroom, they do their work, they are polite and they don’t seem to be as distressed as the parents claim. I don’t understand the bucket!’

We need to remember that neurotypicals have good things that happen during the day such as having a coffee, talking to a friend and eating chocolate. These are enjoyable experiences which reduce the stress/upsetting water in our bucket.  However, for autistic children and young people those can also be stressful times and they only add more water to their bucket, making the bucket fuller and fuller throughout the day.

It is important to know that by the time the autistic child or young person gets home, the bucket is almost full and ready to spill the water everywhere and it will make a mess when it does. THAT is what the family experience.  The bucket has been keeping the water in all day and now it is tired and in a ‘safe’ place to let go of the extra water that cannot be held anymore. Parents don’t understand why their child is having a meltdown the minute they get home as ‘NOTHING’ has really happened. But this is far from the case.

My class? Well, it went silent and some were sobbing…

One learner stood up, said thank you and hugged me.  She had been feeling guilty for years thinking that her son (who is autistic but we didn’t know in the classroom) didn’t love her, but now she understood and wishes someone explained earlier. The student who thought parents were exaggerating apologised to her and everyone started a new conversation.  What can we do to help?

Well, tell everyone about your bucket, or your child’s bucket or any bucket you may be thinking of and take action to stop the bucket overflowing. You can learn ways of doing this by accessing the Autism Education Trust Programme which includes training and resources https://www.autismeducationtrust.org.uk/training-programme/


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