Monday, May 7, 2012

5:1 Magic Ratio

A child psychologist told me that for every 1 negative interaction a parent has with a child, there must be 10 positives. I don't know where she got her numbers, but here's a study worth considering...

In the book, How Full is Your Bucket? (great, fast read!), the author mentions John Gottman's pioneering research on marriage, suggesting
"there is a 'magic ratio' of 5 to 1 -- in terms of our balance of positive to negative interactions. Gottman found that marriages are significantly more likely to succeed when the couple's interactions are near that 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative. When the ratio approaches 1 to 1, marriages 'cascade to divorce.'

In a fascinating study, Gottman teamed up with two mathematicians to test this model. Starting in 1992, they recruited 700 couples who had just received their marriage licenses. For each couple, the researchers videotaped a 15-minute conversation between husband and wife and counted the number of positive and negative interactions. Then, based on the 5 to 1 ratio, they predicted whether each couple would stay together or divorce.

Ten years later, Gottman and his colleagues followed up with each couple to determine the accuracy of their original predictions. The results were stunning. They had predicted divorce with 94% accuracy -- based on scoring the couples' interactions for 15 minutes." [p. 55]

It's not easy to remember to emphasize the positive over the negative. It doesn't come natural to me. But when it comes to our kids, the magic ratio is crucial. I think of the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons. You just hear her in the background, "Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah." Nothing intelligible. I'd like to think we raise the odds of our kids hearing us if we use the magic ratio.

And it doesn't have to be "good job." In fact, it shouldn't be. The positives might be as simple as "I noticed that you used a lot of blue in your picture." Or, "I saw you pump yourself on the swing." It doesn't have to be much. Just something.

An easy way to remember? Put some 3x5" cards around the house with starting phrases:
  • I noticed how you...
  • I see that you...
  • You helped Mommy when you...
  • You must be proud of the way you...
  • I had fun doing _________ with you.
  • High-5 me! 
  • Tell me about your __________ (picture, walk, time with Daddy)
Just starting to think about magic ratios? I might challenge myself to say one, deliberate positive each hour. On the hour. ;) Maybe set the timer. I remember a period where I set the timer to give my kids a hug every 60 minutes because a specific child needed it. It felt a bit contrived, but it sure helped to keep me consistent.

And P.S.
I'll try to get better at doing this with the DOG. The 5:1 ratio. Not the hugs! :)

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