Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Headshot2011Fill a Bucket with Kindness — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Instead of a question, I have a suggestion. Parents, teachers, and others who have a role in guiding children should read the picture book, “Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids” by Carol McCloud. The basic premise is that children can find simple ways to share their positive energy with others — because, of course, it’s the right thing to do. But also because young children can be taught to become aware of the intrinsic reward such acts bring. Truly, it feels good to do the right thing. As caregivers, we can model how to show kindness and how to express our appreciation and love to the people in our lives. I have read this book many times with my twins, now 8 years old, as well as my daughter’s Brownie troop. Great way to start a discussion of how we should interact with others.

Bucket Filler

Don’t miss last week’s column on contrary 2-year-old

Dear Bucket Filler,

Positive psychology is behind this and other growing initiatives to turn our collective human energy in the right direction. Research on social-emotional development has abounded in recent decades, informing us of the powerful effect that adequate nurturing, and guiding nurturing behavior in children, can have. When I taught at a religious-based preschool in the early 1980’s, I attended a training course on teaching Loving Kindness. One of the techniques I recall having an immediate impact on my preschool class was to ask a child to tell me how his chest felt after I “caught” him in a nurturing action. The responses were words like “warm,” and “smiley.” I observed that making a preschooler aware of his own “joy” in giving resulted in an increase in positive interactions.

Human beings have the capacity for kindness, yet too often selfish motivations, or simply not paying attention to the needs of others, can get in the way. Indeed, positive energy is a much under-used and under-appreciated commodity. Kindness could be a choice in many situations, but haste or habit are more often in control of our actions. Many child development theorists would agree that it’s best to learn habits of kindness in early childhood.

Practicing and teaching kindness should be mandatory training for teachers and parents. And Carol McCloud has provided us with a wonderful series of children’s books to help:

“Fill a Bucket: a Guide to Daily Happiness for Young Children” helps young children from birth to age 7 recognize the joy in helping, sharing, and giving.

“Will You Fill My Bucket? Daily Acts of Love Around the World” shows examples of kindness for ages 4 to 9. (This is a companion book to “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?”)

“Growing Up with a Bucket Full of Happiness: Three Rules for a Happier Life” explains the causes of negative behavior and guides children ages 9 and up to overcome the hurtful words and actions of others.

Here’s what else I learned on the Bucket Fillers website:

The “bucket” represents your mental and emotional self. It can be filled or depleted (called “dipping”) by the words and actions of others as well as life events and your own thoughts.

A full bucket makes you feel more confident, secure, calm, patient, and friendly. An overflowing bucket can spread to those around you.

An empty bucket makes you feel sad, negative, insecure, nervous, angry, depressed, stressed, worried, afraid, or physically ill. And it can empty the buckets of those around you.

“Using Your Lid” is how you can consciously protect the good thoughts and feelings that are in your bucket from being dipped out by other people.

Thank you for sharing! I’m expressing appreciation, not only to fill your bucket but because it’s the right thing to do.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected]