The Love Bucket

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By Linn Pribus

My husband, Glenn, has a wonderful bit of cracker-barrel philosophy that we call "The Theory of the Love Bucket." It is an easy concept for children to grasp, even very young children, because it is something they can visualize. You see, everyone has a love bucket. If you are happy and you have plenty of love to share, then your love bucket is brimming full. But when you are nervous or cross, gloomy or crotchety, it could be that yours is very low.

The basic philosophy behind the Love Bucket Theory is simply this: Never let the sun set on an empty love bucket. It's not always easy, but it's always worth the effort.

When one of our boys is grouchy, it could be a cold coming on, but more likely it's a leaky love bucket. (A bad spelling test or not being invited to a birthday party can be especially hard on love buckets.) Then it's time for Danny Day or a Nicky Day.

Everyone concentrates on filling Dan's of Nick's love bucket. Maybe one of his chores is done for him as a surprise. Perhaps he chooses the dinner menu. He might get to select the book for bedtime reading or make a call all on his own to one of his grandmothers.

Usually the extra expression of love that has been there all along will chase away the grumbles. And it works! Reinforce undesirable behavior by rewarding it, you suggest? No, it really doesn't. In fact, far from encouraging selfishness, I've found that it makes the children more understanding and sensitive to the moods and feelings of others.

Love bucket terminology works marvelously with children. A painfully shy child, for example, can be described in terms of a small love bucket that needs constant refilling. Perhaps the neighborhood bully's bucket is "all bent out of shape." The youngster who is an outsider may simply not have learned how to let people know his bucket is only half full. And an insecure child may have a slow leak.

A serious loss such as moving away from good friends or a death in the family can knock the bottom right out of a love bucket so that it takes months to rebuild. When a child is confused or frightened at such a time, it can be infinitely comforting to hear, "I'll help you mend your love bucket no matter how long it takes."

When a new baby gets too much attention, it can be reassuring to an older child to be told, "There's still plenty of love to keep your bucket full, don't you worry."

If a child backs himself into a corner by being contrary and obstinate, you can work wonders if, instead of dueling verbally, you say, "I'll bet your love bucket isn't very full today." (That even works with husbands.)

The great beauty of my husband's theory is its simplicity. No fancy terms like "positive personal image" or "enhanced intra-family relationship" are needed here. When our young boy was only three, he understood exactly what I meant when I commented, "I think Daddy's love bucket level is low." Or when I said, "Quit punching holes in your brother's love bucket." Or when I said, "My love bucket's so full it's splashing all over the place."

I was really convinced, however, one day when I was not being so cheerful myself. In fact, I must admit I was being downright crabby. Dan was four at the time and he came over to me, put his arms around my legs, looked up at me for a moment, then said earnestly to his brother, "I think it's time for a Mommy Day."