Freeman Medical Musings Blog


Concluding the Five-Gallon Jug Metaphor

Posted by Dr. Kimberly Fielding, on September 19, 2014

As adults "pour" into the lives of children, adults can serve as a resource to fill children with the capacity to reach adulthood as happy, safe and healthy individuals. We have the explored areas of time management and emotional stability with this metaphor; those blog posts contained a key principle that can be applied in a variety of ways: adult leadership cultivates child followership.

Adults help developing minds track time on a clock, through history and into the future. As long as a child feels safe (due to adult guidance), he or she will feel more secure to learn and approach new experiences. This high-quality role modeling results in young people internalizing a positive view of the world and then living it as they grow up. This key principle – adult leadership cultivates child followership – flows over into other areas of children’s lives as well, such as spiritual connections, finances and ethics.

We can define spirituality as a connection to other people across time and space. Adults can help children develop this important life skill. For example, parents can talk about people who have positively influenced our society as part of that “connection.” For example, simply referring to a picture of a stovepipe hat evokes the connection to Abraham Lincoln for some people. When we are careful to leave the walking path clear of litter, we are demonstrating our connection by considering those who came on the path before us and those who will tag along later. Adults can be considered the best supplier for hope as well; children need to receive frequent doses of hope and optimism in our connection with others.

Children need parental guidance on financial topics, too. This subject holds potential for some uncomfortable life lessons, but parents can help by encouraging children! Just as some would say there is never enough time, some folks say it is also true of money. Thus, this area is a vital “pour” for children!

The obvious benefits of learning to manage finances are learning how to budget, plan and set financial goals. The more subtle advantage is that children will also learn the meaning of money. A simple rule of thumb is to help them distinguish between choices: “Should I save, share or spend?” and “What percentage will I allow for each category?” Adults can help children slow down and discuss the values between the choices of saving, sharing and spending. For example, it may be uncomfortable to wait for the savings to accumulate to the amount needed to purchase an item, but adults can “pour” in patience! Sharing with others can bring a mixture of feelings – children may be glad to help and sad to watch dollars leave. Spending choices help a child practice thinking through cause-and-effect, developing morals and delaying impulsivity. With continued leadership, children will follow their parents’ examples into adulthood.

Moral development can progress when children have caring adults in their lives. Ethics are the “character” that guides a person, group, community, nation and world. Ethics are the center question of credibility, and all else weaves around it. Parents can share valuable customs, beliefs and practices with their children. In adulthood, these manifest as character traits like common sense, moral reasoning and goodwill. For example, I heard an older gentleman explain why picked up loose pennies. He would tell his grandchildren that the pennies were like people and “everyone’s worth picking up.” He also took young people with him during volunteer opportunities. He showed the way during clothing and food drives. As a result, many young people internalized his example.

While children can understand ethics as “right” and “wrong,” adults should remember not to be too rigid or too flexible in the rules. It’s important to learn how to effectively problem solve when dilemmas occur. Ethics help a child know what values to hold firmly, and which ones have some room for negotiation. The older gentleman mentioned earlier poured ethics from his five-gallon jug by showing that his character gave him the energy to help – even when he didn’t feel like it and when the weather wasn’t pleasant. What a “pour” into the young lives in his circle of influence!

In summary, the five-gallon jug metaphor involves valuing caring adults’ contributions in children’s lives. Most importantly, it involves valuing children, who are the needful recipients of such giving. Good mental health is correlated to good physical health. Therefore, adults have significant opportunities to support children’s good mental and physical health through positive contributions.

Enjoy the “pour”!