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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2023  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 23-26

Coping with schooling bullying using the "bucket-filling' metaphor as a management strategy

1 Department of Pediatrics, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India
2 Director-Principal, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar State Institute of Medical Sciences, Sahibzada Ajit Singh Nagar (Mohali), Punjab, India

Date of Submission01-Oct-2022
Date of Decision23-Jan-2023
Date of Acceptance23-Jan-2023
Date of Web Publication27-Feb-2023

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Bhavneet Bharti
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar State Institute of Medical Sciences, Sahibzada Ajit Singh Nagar (Mohali) - 160 055, Punjab
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ipcares.ipcares_233_22

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Background: Childhood bullying is a widespread global public health problem that is associated with several adverse long-term physical and mental health problems. The present case report describes the successful implementation of an intervention that focused on improving the socio-emotional skills of a victimized child. Clinical Description: SP, an 8-year-old foster boy was being bullied by his peers at school. This led to him appearing distracted, easily frustrated, scholastic deterioration, and refusal to go to school. He was brought to us by his concerned parents for the evaluation and management. Psychometric testing revealed that the child did not have any intellectual impairment or symptoms of specific learning disability, behavioral, or mood disturbances. Management and Outcome: An intervention that focused on metaphors "bucket filling" (i.e., being kind and considerate), "bucket dippers" (i.e., being mean and hurtful words) was used, the lesson being that one must learn to keep the lid of their own bucket on, so that others cannot empty it. Multiple sessions were taken and assignments given in which the parents were actively involved with the child. After 2 months, the child was better adjusted at school and had made a new friend. The bullying too had declined. Conclusions: Pediatricians need to be able to recognize the symptoms that could indicate bullying. Once recognized, appropriate referrals should be made to competent professionals. Early childhood programs that foster socio-emotional learning using novel strategies are beneficial.

Keywords: Bullying prevention, peer victimization, perspective taking, social-emotional learning

How to cite this article:
Malhi P, Bharti B. Coping with schooling bullying using the "bucket-filling' metaphor as a management strategy. Indian Pediatr Case Rep 2023;3:23-6

How to cite this URL:
Malhi P, Bharti B. Coping with schooling bullying using the "bucket-filling' metaphor as a management strategy. Indian Pediatr Case Rep [serial online] 2023 [cited 2023 Mar 22];3:23-6. Available from: http://www.ipcares.org/text.asp?2023/3/1/23/370532

Childhood bullying or peer victimization is a widespread global public health problem. It is known to lead to adverse physical and psychological health problems that persist into adulthood.[1] Bullying is defined as the use of overt or covert unjustified acts of aggression that are repeated over a prolonged period and are intended to harm, cause distress, or exert control over another person. These behaviors can be physical (pushing, shoving, or hitting), verbal (teasing, name-calling, and threats), relational (isolating, spreading rumors, and excluding from activities), or digital (online teasing and targeting). The resultant commonly observed symptoms in the victim includes headaches, tiredness, fears, poor self-esteem, declining school achievement, and refusal to go to school.[2] Research indicates that a sizable proportion of students in the middle and high schools in India is either involved or affected by bullying, with studies reporting a prevalence as high as 53%.[3] Many individuals, school, family, and community factors increase the risk of victimization: being perceived as "different;" deficits in social-emotional regulation skills; poor socioeconomic status; low peer-and school-connectedness; poor academic performance; and lack of social support. Studies have documented that bullied students are more likely to experience depression, social isolation, anxiety, lower life satisfaction, conduct problems, poor scholastic performance, school absenteeism, and psychosomatic complaints.[1],[2],[3],[4]

Given the serious consequences of bullying, it is essential to design and implement effective prevention and intervention programs to help children face and overcome its negative impact. Research has documented that improving social-emotional learning (SEL) skills can be protective. These programs use the bio-ecological theoretical perspective and teach children how to recognize, understand, label, express, and regulate emotions, and cope with bullying.[5]

In this case, we describe the implementation of an individualized psycho-educational intervention that was used to improve the socioemotional skills of a victim of bullying. We also highlight how responsiveness to victimization and parental involvement can improve the effectiveness of intervention.

  Clinical Description Top

SP is an 8-year-old boy whose foster parents are concerned about verbal bullying of their son at school for the past 3 months and are seeking guidance to help him deal with it. They report that the child has been mercilessly teased about his physical appearance and accent by his classmates. He has also been falsely accused of using abusive words in school by peers. It has been observed that recently the child appears distracted, gets easily frustrated, is reluctant to do his homework, and exhibits reluctance to go to school. Parents are worried as there has been a definite decline in the school performance. He has also started making unfavorable comparisons of himself with his classmates and feels he will never be as good as them.

SP studies in Class 2 in a private school where most of the students are from upper socioeconomic status families and generally converse in English. Before being taken into foster care, 2 years back, the child resided in a childcare institute. Not many details are available about his early years in the childcare institute, but he was reported to be fairly well-behaved. The foster parents are well educated, extremely supportive, and nurturing toward the child. SP's initial adjustment to his new life was stressful as he struggled to adapt to the family routines and become at par with his peers at school. According to his foster mother, SP does not have friends and she feels this is because he lacks the social and emotional skills required to form sustained friendships. The child gets along well with his teachers, especially his class teacher who is strict and demands academic excellence. He is reported to be intellectually curious with an extensive vocabulary but struggles with spellings in English.

We undertook baseline psychometric testing to exclude other causes that may also contribute to the aforementioned problems. His cognitive and achievement testing revealed scores in the average range. The completed parent and teacher attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Vanderbilt forms revealed some symptoms of inattention, but since they did not fulfil the requisite number or cause functional impairment, they were not considered consistent with a diagnosis of ADHD. On the basis of the assessment, it was also apparent that the child did not have any intellectual impairment, symptoms of specific learning disability, and behavioral or mood disturbances.

Management and outcome

We implemented a targeted intervention that primarily focused on teaching perspective-taking skills. This means strategies that foster the ability of a person to understand the experiences, views, and beliefs of other individuals. These skills can be learnt and practiced and they help in reshaping interpersonal interactions by increasing co-operation and reducing conflict. The implemented strategy utilized the "bucket filling" metaphor to understand how daily behaviors can positively or negatively impact others. The child and his parents were explained that everyone has an invisible mental bucket and our actions can either fill or empty this bucket. Activities such as being kind and considerate toward others help in filling the bucket and being a "bucket filler" is the best way to increase one's well-being. Children who use mean and hurtful words are "bucket dippers" and they empty out not only their own, but others' buckets as well. Hence, each person must learn to keep the lid of their own bucket on, so that others cannot dip into theirs and empty it.[6] The read-aloud book "Bucket dippers and lids: Secrets to your happiness" was shared with the family to read and discuss with the child regarding the actions that may lead to bucket filling or bucket dipping. The parents were enthusiastic about this metaphor and worked actively with the child in home assignments. These included asking the child to identify classmates who were bucket dippers, draw his emotions when other children teased him [Figure 1], and maintain a journal with details of bucket-filling and bucket-dipping incidents [Figure 2].
Figure 1: Emotions experienced by child while being bullied

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Figure 2: Examples of bucket-dipping and bucket-filling maintained in journal by child

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Once the child had identified the triggers and the bucket-dipping actions of the perpetrators, strategies such as deep breathing (closing eyes and breathing in through nose while counting to four and breathing out from the mouth slowly to the count of four) and redirection (distracting himself by thinking of happy places and pleasant memories) were taught as techniques to "keep the lid of his bucket" intact to ensure that the bullies could not empty it. These simple skills were taught in the clinic by the child psychologist both to the parents and the child. In addition, the parents were asked to practice these strategies at home till the child became comfortable in their use. The parents also informed the class teacher about the child's bullying episodes. Follow-up after 2 months revealed that the child was better adjusted at school, had made a new friend, and the bullying episodes had substantially declined. Parents reported that these simple strategies taught in the clinic had facilitated the child's coping with provocative peer-related encounters at school.

  Discussion Top

Bullying is generally under-reported by victims as they fear an escalation in aggression by their abusers. Thus, they unknowingly deprive themselves of adult support that may have otherwise helped them in being targeted by bullies.[3] Adult stakeholders such as school authorities and parents can play a critical role in intervening and helping children to cope with bullying. In India, many schools have regulations and policies to deal with bullying, but practice guidelines for parents are generally not available. This narrative focuses on the role of parents in being involved in teaching social-emotional skills as a strategy to counter bullying behaviors that their children are being exposed to. When children report about bullying at home, parental reaction ranges from experiencing a range of negative emotions towards the school authorities, to even "normalizing" bullying as a rite of passage that is inevitably a part of growing up. There is sufficient evidence that indicates that appropriate parental responsiveness to bullying, and their active positive involvement can greatly facilitate a child's ability to cope with victimization.[7],[8] In the present case, we used a strategy to help children learn in a vivid and imaginative way that practicing self-compassion and understanding how behaviors can negatively or positively impact others can improve self-regulation and change their perspective.[6] It also demonstrates how parents can act as a unique resource to implement these strategies at home.

Research demonstrates that children who have been taught to develop their social-emotional skills, can recognize, express, and regulate their emotions in socially appropriate ways. They are also able to understand the emotions of others, and this insight contributes to forming stable peer relationships.[5] In this case, the child made a friend after he learnt how to cope using the "bucket filling" strategy. Notably, this technique can be used in children as young as 5-year-old. For example, bucket filling strategy has been successfully used to teach self-regulation skills among 5-year-old children in a character education program in schools in the United States.[9]

An evidence-based school program has been developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. This focuses on teaching SEL practices that enhance recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating emotions (known by the acronym RULER). Increasing evidence shows that this program improves student outcomes, the quality of learning environments, and interpersonal relationships.[10] SEL skills improve coping and reduce stress when students face challenging situations. Education policy-makers in India need to create policies and allocate resources that will enable schools to implement quality SEL programs that focus on enhancing social problem-solving, peer relationships, and conflict resolution. This will help to support existing school-based policies that focus on creating and implementing explicit rules against victimization, improving teacher supervision, and promoting peer and school connectedness that have also been successful in reducing victimization in the past.[11]

Pediatricians need to recognize that bullying is a serious problem that is being faced by many children and may not be reported to adults. Peer victimization may be one of the potential risk factors for behavioral difficulties, nonresolving somatic complaints without any plausible cause despite extensive work-up, declining school performance, and refusal to go to school; all of which are commonly encountered in routine office practice. A high index of suspicion should be kept to ensure timely referral to competent authorities for the evaluation and appropriate management. The present report showcases how child health professionals can guide parents to be involved in effective intervention strategies to counter bullying by reinforcing simple social-emotional regulation skills at home.

Declaration of patient consent

The authors certify that they have obtained all appropriate patient consent forms. In the form, the patient has given his consent for his images and other clinical information to be reported in the journal. The patient understands that name and initials will not be published and due efforts will be made to conceal identity, but anonymity cannot be guaranteed.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Schoeler T, Duncan L, Cecil CM, et al. Quasi-experimental evidence on short- and long-term consequences of bullying victimization: A meta-analysis. Psychol Bull 2018;144:1229-46.  Back to cited text no. 1
Malhi P, Bharti B. School bullying and association with somatic complaints in victimized children. Indian J Pediatr 2021;88:962-7.  Back to cited text no. 2
Malhi P, Bharti B, Sidhu M. Aggression in schools: Psychosocial outcomes of bullying among Indian adolescents. Indian J Pediatr 2014;81:1171-6.  Back to cited text no. 3
Moore SE, Norman RE, Suetani S, et al. Consequences of bullying victimization in childhood and adolescence: A systematic review and meta-analysis. World J Psychiatry 2017;7:60-76.  Back to cited text no. 4
Divecha D, Brackett M. Rethinking school-based bullying prevention through the lens of social and emotional learning: A bio-ecological perspective. Int J Bullying Prev 2020;2:93-113.  Back to cited text no. 5
McCloud C. Bucket Dippers and Lids: Secrets to Your Happiness. Brighton, MI: Bucket Fillosophy; 2018.  Back to cited text no. 6
Stives KL, May DC, Mack M, et al. Understanding responses to bullying from the parent perspective. Front Educ 2021;6:642367.  Back to cited text no. 7
Lester L, Pearce N, Waters S, et al. Family involvement in a whole-school bullying intervention: Mothers' and fathers' communication and influence with children. J Child Fam Stud 2017;26:2716-27.  Back to cited text no. 8
Kennedy MR. The Effects of Character Education Literature of Bucket Filling Strategies on the Ability of 5-Year-Old Students to Self-Regulate in a Montessori Classroom, 2019. Sophia, the St. Catherine University Repository Website. Available from: https://sophia.stkate.edu/maed/338Aa. [Last accessed on 2022 Jan 07].  Back to cited text no. 9
Nathanson L, Rivers SE, Flynn LM, et al. Creating emotionally intelligent schools with RULER. Emot Rev 2016;8:305-10.  Back to cited text no. 10
Rapee RM, Shaw T, Hunt C, et al. Combining whole-school and targeted programs for the reduction of bullying victimization: A randomized, effectiveness trial. Aggress Behav 2020;46:193-209.  Back to cited text no. 11


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]


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