Have You Been A Bucket Filler? A Positive (AND EASY) Behavior Incentive For Littles.
Have YOU filled a bucket today? If you know what I am talking about, then you are one step ahead with the explanation of this super easy behavior system.

I used to teach elementary school and was never a huge fan of the "clip system". If you aren't familiar with this way of behavior management, it was a chart with various colors, usually green meaning "great day with great choices", yellow meaning "had some not-so-hot choices but worked to correct them", and then red being the one that all kids (well, most) feared meaning "rough day". Kids are kids. They will test boundaries and make mistakes (as we all do, even as adults). I remember that for some kids, moving down a color due to a bad choice didn't phase them, but then there was that kiddo who was totally devastated and their day was ruined. Although I thought that method worked for some, I saw how some of my students really took it to heart and it impacted their day in a worse way than anticipated. SO, I looked into alternatives to a system that praised the behaviors I wanted littles to exhibit. I stumbled across this book called, How Full Is Your Bucket, and instantly fell in love with the concept. It was simple, fun, and I never looked back. Here I am years later using it with my own kiddos. 

To sum it up, the book focuses on bucket fillers. The author explains that we all have invisible buckets we carry around. When these buckets are full, we are happy! When these buckets are empty, we are grumpy (or as my kids call it Crankenstein... another book worthy of your children's library). We can fill buckets by being kind, sharing, making great choices... and while we fill others' buckets, we fill our own in the process! It's a win-win! On the flip-side, when we are bucket dippers, we dip from others' buckets, making them sad, but also ourselves. An example of bucket dipping would be not sharing, hitting, saying hurtful things, etc. While in the classroom, this method was a game-changer for me. I was no longer trying to find and pinpoint negative behaviors, but I was now striving to notice and praise the behaviors that were wanted, such as helping a friend pick up her crayons after accidentally dropping them. Kids want to be acknowledged, whether it's for a positive or negative action. I began ignoring unwanted behaviors (when it was not something that needed addressed) and, instead, praising a student for doing the opposite that was a desired action. For example, Hannah is shouting out while on carpet during a story. Rather than say, "Hannah, please wait your turn", I would find a student doing the desired behavior and say, "Sam, I LOVE how you are raising your hand to answer the question! Go ahead and tell me what you think!" 8 times out of 10 (which are pretty good odds) Hannah would acknowledge this and distinguish the unwanted behavior. So, why NOT try this for the little crazies in my own house?! 

What You'll Need: 
-How Full Is Your Bucket? (you can snag it off Amazon here)
-Craft Pom-Poms (we used 1.5 inch ones, but you can choose your size)
-Sticker Letters To Label Container (we used these)
-A clear, kid-safe, plastic container (we bought these from Target)
-Another bigger container to hold the excess pom-poms that aren't earned yet. Here is a great one!

We started it off by reading the book and talking about the pictures, the characters' facial expressions when things happened (such as bucket dipping and filling), and making sure genuine conversations were being made to ensure the concept was being understood. The book is so cute and does a great job explaining everything so well! 

Afterwards, we dug into having our OWN buckets and both kiddos really loved the concept, especially Declan. They each have their own "bucket" with their name on it and we put it on our kitchen counter so it's always visible and a reminder of making good choices during the day. Although they can see them, we did set them back so that they couldn't start loading up on pom-poms... because let's be honest, kids will be kids ;) 

Below are some examples of how we let them know they have filled our buckets, and in turn, get to fill their own! 

-"Declan, I love how you picked up your playroom the first time I asked you. That filled my bucket! You earned a pom-pom!"

-"Whoa, Crew! You cleaned up your dinner plate without being told to! Good job! You earned a pom-pom for being a bucket filler!"

-"Thank you for walking away from your brother when he made you mad instead of biting him. That filled my bucket!" (Yes, this is one we have had to use a few times with Crew...HAHAHA)

-"Oh my stars! You got your shoes on so fast while getting out the door! You are being a bucket filler!" 

-"It makes me so happy that you shared your favorite toy with your friend! You earned a pom-pom for your bucket!" 

Some things to note here... BE SPECIFIC and detailed. I like to say exactly what it is that they did, such as "cleaned up the toys the first time being asked" or "getting on shoes quickly when getting ready to leave"... both of these are things they usually struggle with so I want them to know that when I DO see it happen, I am beyond happy! I re-iterate that THEY are filling my bucket, which in turn, fills their OWN bucket. The purpose is for them to eventually feel self-gratification for doing these things and we will eventually wean the pom-poms out. 

Another piece of this is setting goals. Crew is 3 and Declan is 5, so to expect them to have the same goal isn't ideal. It must be attainable or they will shut down and will not play in on this approach. With our current system, Crew needs to earn 10 and Declan needs to earn 15 pom-poms in their containers to meet their "goals". As time goes on and they meet their goals easily, we can raise the number needed so that they aren't relying on "something" at the end to behave positively. However, this is a great way to start getting habits in order that may be lacking, such as following directions the first time being told or putting dirty clothes in the hamper after putting on jammies for the night. The beauty of this is that YOU can customize this to what you feel is a struggle in your house and beyond. 

Visuals are powerful tools for young minds! We had a conversation with the boys about what they wanted their "big" reward to be once they filled their buckets. This does NOT have to be something you have to pay for, like a toy. It can be a special treat after dinner, staying up an extra 30 minutes, bringing in McDonald's to for lunch at school, extra TV/tablet time, etc. You can even make a "menu" of things for your kiddos to work towards based on things they love. Declan decided he wanted a small toy from Target (under $5) and Crew wanted extra tablet time. As a visual reminder of these incentives, you can find a photo on Google, such as a picture of a tablet, print it out, and place it with the container as a visual of what they are working towards. You can also use a wet-erase marker to write the number they are working toward on the outside OR how many they have... lots of ways to do it!

Make sure to let THEM fill their bucket! They LOVE it and you'll see their little face light up with pride that they made a good choice. 

Something else I love about this is that you can turn it into learning, aside from positive interactions and behaviors. We count the pom-poms in the container each time we fill it! We ask Declan things like, "How many more do you need to get to 15?" We also bought different colored pom-pom balls, so we like to practice colors with Crew!

One last thing... there is a tid-bit in the book about being a bucket dipper, meaning you dip from your bucket when you make a sad choice. This is totally optional, BUT you can remove pom-pom balls if you desire. We try to not do this as much, but have when it's a choice that we really are upset about, like the boys fighting/biting/hitting (yes, brotherly love) or something like that. 

So there you have it! A method that is working quite well for us, encouraging positive actions, and a system that not only works well for the boys, but for us! Let me know if you try it! 


Reviews (2 comments)

  • Sarah On

    This is such a great idea! I completely agree with you on the clip system, I’m not a fan of daily public consequences for some kids. My kids are little (18 and 28 months) but I still want to try this!

  • Adrienne Hill On

    Thanks so much for sharing!! I was just thinking about feeling lost when my 4 year old gets a bad attitude or tells me “no” a lot. I want to try this! Plus her and her 21 month old sister always fight over things so this can come in handy for sure!

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