Have you filled a bucket today?

Be nice.

Be kind.

We give these instructions to our children so many times that at some point the words may begin to ring hollow.

What does “be nice” really mean to a six year old? And better yet, what happens if they’re not nice? Just ask a child- most will say they may get in trouble. And there, my friends, is the real issue.

Too frequently, a child only sees the consequence of not being nice as something that will have a negative impact on their life, not the life of the other child involved. To an extent, this is normal, as children are in a very ego-centric place in their lives. However, at a time where bullying has led to the untimely death of so many young people, we need to figure out a way to teach compassion to our young children and we need to start today.

Being both a parent and a teacher, I’ve struggled over the years with explaining the tremendous impact of words to children. In her new book, Whoopi Goldberg remarks that she’d rather hear kids say the f-word than call someone stupid or fat. Because really, how does the f-word make you feel? But being called stupid or fat? Those words sting. Those words can stay with you for a lifetime. Those are bad words.

On the other side of the coin, just like words can hurt, words can help a great deal. Compliments, manners and other niceties can make us feel happy, wanted, appreciated, and warm inside. A bad day can be turned around by a smile or a gesture or a joke.

So back to our kids and the challenge we have in front of us. A few nights ago at the dinner table, my first grade daughter shared a very interesting part of her day. At school they had a guest speaker, an author named Carol McCloud. Carol has written a book titled, Have You Filled A Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness For Kids. My daughter proceeded to explain that each one of us has an imaginary bucket (I loved her hand motions as she showed me hers!) and within this bucket lies our happiness.

By being kind to others, we not only fill their buckets, but our own buckets too. I was stunned by the simplicity of this metaphor and the understanding reflected in my daughter’s eyes. Then, with a very solemn face, she told me about “bucket dippers.” This was very bad. When someone said unkind words or behaved in an unkind way, they were dipping another’s bucket. Dipping another’s bucket full of happiness?! This sounded awful! Any young child can “see” that by being mean, they would be making someone very sad because they were taking away their happiness.

Every household and elementary classroom should have a copy of this book. It does an amazing job relating an abstract concept to something children can visualize easily, a bucket (by the way, the illustrations are fantastic!). Even the youngest children know what a full bucket looks like and what an empty bucket looks like. We all want buckets full of happiness and this book does a wonderful job explaining that in order to get them, we have to fill others’ buckets.

It’s a simple, yet profound message. Read it together and talk about how you can fill buckets. Make the world a better place by making your child part of the solution, not the problem.

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