Family life

Great parenting tools: Have you filled someone's bucket today?

An old book brings a new — and surprisingly effective — message into Tracy's house.

By Tracy Chappell
Great parenting tools: Have you filled someone's bucket today?

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Remember back before you had kids and you thought this whole parenting thing was going to be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezey? I mean, how hard could it be to mould these drooling blank canvases into exactly the kinds of people you want them to be?
One of the biggest things I’ve learned about parenting (besides, of course, that it can be really hard) is that you have to always be changing it up, keeping things fresh, or you start to sound like that wah-wah-wah adult voice in Charlie Brown. There’s no auto-pilot button, even when your kids get older — maybe especially when they get older and have gotten a little too familiar with your bag o’ tricks.
Last week, Anna came home from school saying something about buckets. I didn’t know what she was talking about, and she moved quickly on (as she’s apt to do) to spelling tests and recess games and what we were having for dinner. But then I heard it again as she talked to Avery. She said something like, “Thanks, Avery — you filled my bucket.”
At dinner, I got her to explain it to me. “Filling someone’s bucket is showing them kindness, and doing things that will make them happy. And you don’t do it so they’ll say thanks, you do it because it fills their bucket and,” she added enthusiastically, “filling their bucket also fills your bucket!”
Such a simple idea. That’s why it’s so perfect. How often do I say things like, “Speak nicely,” or “Be kind to each other,” or “Be respectful.” Many. It’s all wah-wah-wah to them now. Somehow, introducing this phrase has given it a new spin and provided a more tangible, understandable action that they can take. They’re really into it now. Sometimes we’ll talk at bedtime about whose bucket they filled that day and how it made them feel.
It reminds me of back when we had our counsellor, and she helped Anna understand her strong emotions by comparing them to a volcano. That phrase “Do you feel a volcano coming?” made such a difference, explaining a situation that Anna just couldn’t find the words to describe. And once she could tell us, we knew she needed help finding a way to calm down.
Yesterday, the girls were having a bath and Anna wanted to be on a certain side of the tub to do something (don’t ask). Avery refused to budge, for no particular reason. Anna pleaded, Avery wielded her power position and continued to say no. Their voices started to escalate. This type of scenario takes place in some way in our house pretty much every day. I usually try to let them figure it out, but sometimes intervene and say well-intentioned, unhelpful things like “Is it really that big of a deal?”
Today, I popped my head in and said, “Avery, why don’t you fill Anna’s bucket?” They stopped talking. Avery smiled and looked at me and then said, “OK Anna, you can sit here.” I couldn’t believe it (but didn’t want her to know that). I said, “Wow, Avery. Who else’s bucket did you just fill?” She pointed at herself. They spent the rest of bath time — and the evening, actually — cooperating nicely. I can guarantee that this isn’t the reaction I’d get if I had said, “Avery, it would be really nice if you moved so your sister could do what she needs to do.”
How great is it to find something new that gets through to your kids on issues that you feel stuck on? Maybe the novelty will wear off, but I’m going to encourage it as much as I can, and let them know that I’m trying to fill buckets in my day, too. I discovered that the concept is based on a book (maybe I’m the last to hear about this?) that also sees it as a way to deal with bullying, discussing what to do with people who dip into your bucket, and other things. I’ve just ordered my copy.
Do you have any go-to phrases that seem to cut through all the wah-wah-wah in your house?

This article was originally published on May 01, 2013

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