Filling a child’s buckets

By Maysaa Fahour

There are three things that children have total control over.

1. whether they eat

2. going to the bathroom

3. going to sleep

These are three things that are impossible to force a child to do.  However, after reading this, you will be equipped to end the power struggles in one simple way – by keeping their power bucket full.

When I talk about buckets, I refer to this invisible bucket that every child has. They actually have 2, but this article focuses on one – The Power Bucket. Imagine it sitting on their left shoulder and imagine that every morning when they wake up, it is empty. Your job, as their parent, is to get it to be full by the time they sleep.

How is this done? And why is it so important? I hear you ask.

Very valid questions. Perhaps if I teach you why a child’s need for power is so typical and important, then it would become less of a struggle.

It is a psychological and biological necessity for every human to need to exert power and choice.  In fact, some research claims that neuroimaging work suggest that the need for control is a biological imperative for survival. Imagine if you didn’t have the opportunities to exercise control or power? It would cause a feeling of helplessness.

The same goes for children. They are born with the neurological senses however, because they are small, parents often deprive them of the opportunity for power. Usually a toddler doesn’t get to choose what they’d like to wear or eat or whether they want to go out. Parents run the program and very early on a child realises that they have power of certain things and they will choose their right to control them. This in turn makes the parent stress out – bedtime battles begin, potty training becomes a nightmare and food becomes impossible.

Which leads us to the next part.

What do you do?

It is simple. You MUST give your child choices every day that lead to a positive result. 

For example:

  • Do you want to wear this red top or the green one?
  • Would you like carrots or pumpkin with dinner?
  • Go for it! Choose your 3 books for me to read you.

Each of these examples will result in a win, win situation for you and the child. On one hand you are filling their power bucket by getting them to choose which in turn will make them less stubborn and determined to not listen to you. A child will feel more confident to let you run the show if they have their power bucket filled.

Remember, giving them choices is not a passive aggressive way of giving in. You do not say “do you want 1 or 2 lollies to go to sleep? Or “fine! Don’t have a nap.” If you are doing this, you simply helping them feel they have control of things they are incapable of dealing with. You wouldn’t let a 10-year-old drive a car, right? 

There needs to be an understanding of the basic formula: 

filling up your child’s power bucket with choices will allow your child to listen to the mundane tasks (such as sleep, get into the car, time for school, bath time etc).

In summary, young kids (toddlers) lack opportunities of power. The task parents are given is to connect with their child and give them opportunities to make decisions, have choice and feel powerful. This needs to be under the guidance of an adult, ofcourse, nonetheless it has to be done in a way that the child doesn’t feel he/she is “bossed” around all day long. 

I trust this helps you and as I always say, you are the captain of the ship!