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Don’t Be A Bucket Dumper: Helping Kids Understand Happiness

Happy mother and baby laying on meadow

I don’t know what it is about bath time that encourages my little monkey to share her day. Not just the ‘what did you have for lunch?’ or the ‘what did you learn at school’ conversations. But the moments in her day that are still on her mind. The ones she’s proud of, or worried about. The moments that have a story along with them. Maybe it’s the confined space. Maybe it’s the undivided attention from me. Whatever it is, the bath routine is where those vulnerable moments are shared. 

“Mama, did you know that I filled someone’s bucket today?”

“With what?” I asked. 

“With happiness silly!” she responded with giggles. 

The invisible bucket

In preschooler terms, she began to explain to me how everyone has a bucket. We can’t see them but they hold very important things: all of our happiness for the day. Happiness fills the bucket just like water. As easily as it can be filled, it can also be dumped and spilled. Everyone around helps to fill or dump your bucket. A bucket filler is a person who does their best each and every day to show kindness and respect to the people around them. A bucket dipper/dumper is the exact opposite.

Psychologist John E. Valusek wrote about the concept in the 1970s as a way to think about human behavior. How much or how little we have in our own buckets directly influences how we feel and how we behave. The more we fill other’s buckets up, the fuller ours becomes. When our bucket is full, we feel great. The more we dump/dip from other’s buckets, the emptier ours become. When ours is empty, we feel awful.

Happiness can be such a tricky little booger. It’s something we all desire, yet even as adults, we sometimes struggle to fully understand it. The buckets concept was so profound to me as I sat there next to the bathtub and listened to my little monkey explain it. She was so proud to talk through the things she had done to fill her friends’ buckets that day. She even shared some of the moments that dipped from her bucket. And I was so proud to hear her talk through the concept with such confidence. 

You’re being a bucket dumper

Those words stopped me straight in my tracks (and stung a little bit). I turned to see her arms crossed and her little face just so defeated. We called a timeout and both took a seat on the stairs. Using what she had learned about buckets, she was able to explain that in the rush of trying to get out the door on time, the way I was talking to her was dipping from her bucket. My tone became harsh, hurried, and pushy. In the stressful moment of not being late to work, she could feel my frustration. 

The simple language of being a bucket dumper allowed her to imagine her feelings, understand what was happening and have a better idea of what to do with them. Quite honestly, it did all of those things for me, too! All it took was a conversation and a small shift in my approach to getting out the door on time. It has drastically changed our frustrating moments in the mornings. Instead of building up frustration, we turn our delay into a bit of a game. We race around, gathering all of our things, pretending to be the white rabbit and burst into song. You know the one…

I’m late, I’m late, 
for a very important date. 
No time to say hello, goodbye
I’m late, I’m late, I’m late

How to be a bucket filler

There are many ways that you can work with your kiddos on being bucket fillers. It’s a great exercise to sit down as a family and create a list of how you can fill (and dump) each other’s buckets. Below are a few suggestions that my preschooler and I came up with. 

Bucket Fillers

  1. Saying something kind
  2. Saying “I love you”
  3. Giving hugs
  4. Snuggling
  5. Helping with the dog
  6. Being a good listener
  7. Surprise acts of kindness
  8. Sharing

Bucket Dumpers

  1. Using mean words
  2. Ignoring others
  3. Interrupting others
  4. Not sharing toys
  5. Not taking turns
  6. Not cleaning up after yourself 
  7. Not listening
  8. Laughing at mistakes/accidents

The internet is FULL of ideas on ways to incorporate the concept in to your family, work, and even your classroom! There are books for both adults and children, as well as coloring pages, worksheets, and family activities

What can you do to fill someone’s bucket today?

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