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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Magic of Positive Comments: The Magic 5:1 Ratio

As you move into the holiday season the nature of school schedules is such that you will be spending more time with you kids, and your spouse.  Holiday breaks can be wonderful, full of fun trips, time with extended family, hot chocolate and sledding, and warm cuddles in front of the fire.  They can also be filled with messy homes, bored children, and too much time on screens.  It is a time that is ripe with potential for feeling irritable and annoyed.  It is also a wonderful opportunity to work on strengthening the positive emotion between you and your kids, and you and your partner, building up the reserve that can get depleted by the daily grind through the course of the fall.

So Here’s a Strategy to Help You Do Just That… Gottman’s 5:1 Ratio:
John Gottman, a well known researcher on couples and marriages, found that all couples fight; people who live together have conflict.  You and I know that parents and children do as well.  Gottman’s research focused on identifying the factors that made some couples successful and led to failure by others.  Fighting was not the significant factor.  What was more important was the degree to which couples could accentuate the positive and minimize the negative.  Take note, elimination of the negative wasn’t significant or even attainable.  It was an increase in the positive that made a tremendous the difference in the endurance and success of marriages.  Gottman found that stable, happy couples have about a 5:1 ratio between positive and negative interactions.  That is, for every criticism or negative comment there has to be at least 5 compliments or positive comments.


Why 5:1 Ratio?  
Gottman found that positive interactions build up a “reservoir of positive feeling.”  You might liken this reservoir to a savings account into which you are making regular deposits to be withdrawn on a rainy day. Couples who have such reservoirs of positive feelings use some of this when they are criticized, which sustains them through the difficult work of resolving the conflict.  Positive expressions of love, respect, and affection keep love nurtured when they are offered with consistency over time.


What if you Applied Gottman’s Magic Ratio to Your Relationships with your Children?  
For every criticism or complaint you made a point of offering five positive comments.  These aren’t hard to offer, but it may require some attention to do so.  This can be challenging, especially in the midst of a living room that looks like a hurricane hit it with a trail of belongings that follow your children through the house as they lay across the couch with their face in a screen. 


What is the Benefit? 
The benefit would be that parent/child relationships that are inherently positive, provide the foundation needed for a child to develop confidence, healthy self-esteem, and resiliency.  For those of you with a child who has a learning disability or other significant challenge that makes life harder than it may be for their peers, such qualities are all the harder to establish and that's much more critical to their success.  Also keep in mind that when parent/child relationships are not experienced by the child as inherently positive, anxiety, oppositional behavior, and adjustment problems can ensue.  In a relationship where the 5:1 positive to negative ratio is evident, kids are more likely to be cooperative and to listen and respond when a parent does have a complaint. 

Strategies for Success:
So, can you see the value of working on this positive undercurrent in the way you treat and/or hold your child?  To make it a bit easier, here are some tidbits to put in your pocket to offer them throughout these days of holiday cheer, and then well into the winter…


“Good Job”     “I love you.”     “Thank you for…”     “That was nice.”     “I appreciate that you…”


Other ways to contribute to the positive energy savings account include:
  • Do not overlook what seem like small things.
  • Remember that sometimes simply remaining calm and not overreacting can be interpreted as positive and have a wonderful effect. 
  • Pay attention to your child (especially when he or she is doing something positive).
  • Be empathetic.
  • Be respectful and accepting of all feelings.
  • Maintain a positive view of your child.
  • Always be on your child’s side.
You might also pay attention to negative behaviors on your part that warrant a decrease:
  • Eliminate criticism
  • Shed blame
  • Avoid sarcasm
So, I Leave you with this Question: 
Have you said five nice things to your child today?


Be well and happy holidays,
Jennifer

Jennifer Jackson Holden, Psy.D. is managing director of the Paoli, Pennsylvania office of the Center for Psychological Services. www.centerpsych.com drjenniferholden@gmail.com.
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