What is spoon theory?
Spoon Theory was written and created by Christine Miserando. This theory has been adapted here (Spoonie Kids) for the use of children, young people and their families, and an interactive worksheet is freely available to download.
A spoon is a metaphor or code word for an amount of energy. It's like a currency which can be saved or spent on different tasks. Using the language of spoons provides a simple measurable way of explaining to others the limited amount of energy available each day.
It can be used to support children and young people with chronic illness/other activity limiting conditions such as difficulties with sensory regulation, fatigue and pain management. It offers a powerful analogy that can help people understand the impact of highly variable levels of energy.
The main aim of the Spoon Theory is to simplify something that due to its complex and ever-changing nature is often misunderstood. It offers a straight forward way for a child to explain their specific needs for or limitations of, that day/activity/task so that they feel heard and understood.
It potentially not only enables the parent/carer/other adult to support the child to manage their energy levels and to not feel "overloaded". It could also prevent both child and adult becoming very frustrated because everyone understands that it's not that the child "won't" but that they "can't". As an example, the child could quite simply say to their parent who has asked them why they won't play out with their friend today when they enjoyed playing out yesterday "I was happy when I played out yesterday but I don't have enough spoons today".
It varies from day to day. One day a child may wake up and feel that it's a good day for them and get out of bed, have breakfast, clean their teeth and still feel they've got enough spoons to go to their appointment with the dentist. The next day it could feel like just getting out of bed could take the only spoons they had. Each day is different.
It's important to acknowledge however, that as individuals, the number of spoons each activity takes may be different from one child to another. For example, four basic morning tasks - getting out of bed, eating breakfast, getting dressed and cleaning teeth - for one child, each of those tasks may take one spoon and for another, it may take 4- dependant on how the body feels that day. If a child starts the day with say 8 spoons, the first child has used half of their spoons just getting ready, the second all of them. As everything else including things like walking to school, completing the multiple tasks of learning once there, socialising, eating and playing all use spoons. The first child has only half of their spoons left for that day's other activities and the second has none.
The environment can have a big impact on the cost of spoons too, noisy, busy areas may take more and leave less for the task in hand they are trying to complete. They will need support to "budget" their spoons.
When a child runs out of spoons life can feel overwhelming. They may need to take some time out, perhaps by having sensory downtime which can help to start replenishing their spoons. This will again be different for each child and learning what helps you as an individual is an important step.
Think about what sort of things costs a child spoons and also what helps them to increase their spoons. For example, quiet time in a favourite place.
You can download the free resource to help with this.
The hope is that with a shared language that is accepted and understood by children and the adults around them, the difficulties that can arise if a child feels they are not believed or listened to such as anger, frustration and low self-esteem may be significantly reduced. The value of considerate, understanding caregivers to maintain the well-being of the child cannot be underestimated.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or with questions.
This tool has been created by Joanna Hunt, an Occupational Therapist. She is registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), is a member of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) and the Specialist Section Children, Young People and Families.