John Gattman, Ph.D., has studied relationships for five decades. In his studies, he has determined that relationships with a 2.9 positive to negative comment ratio last, and those with a lower ratio end in divorce. It really is that simple; negativity is the death knell for relationships. What is interesting and important about this discovery is that this ratio is relevant for every relationship and not just couples. Businesses with a high positive to negative ratio thrive as long as they do not ignore the reality of a bad situation.
My interest is in our families. How is negativity affecting your family? Do you criticize more than you demonstrate gratitude or appreciation? Do you look for what is wrong versus looking for an authentic desire to prepare your children for a life of meaning and fulfillment? Parents are the first and most important teachers of children. Their daily interactions, reactions, and attention will be the most important determinant of their child’s future well-being. The responsibility can be overwhelming.
Studies have shown that parents that turn toward their children with a positive emotion have a healthier, more substantial relationship. Parents that turn away when children request their attention have an unhealthy relationship. How can it be so simple? Think of your relationship with your child as a bank account. We want it to grow. Every interaction and subsequent response will have one of the following effects on the account balance.
Neutral – These interactions or responses are not positive or negative. “What is for dinner”? the child asks. “Meatloaf,” the mother responds. No loading. No hidden agenda. Just simple communication.
Negative – These interactions or responses are a withdrawal from the account. “What is for dinner”? asks the child. “I am not your servant,” retorts the mother. These seemingly insignificant withdrawals result in a negative account balance over time. At some point, the relationship must file bankruptcy to relieve the deficit. I have seen so many parent-child relationships file for bankruptcy. The need to be right, in control, obedient, silent, perfect, etc., was more important than the relationship. So sad. How do you show up in your relationship with your child or children? How was your relationship with your parents? Are you repeating the past?
Positive – These interactions or responses are a deposit into the emotional or relational bank account. Positive interactions result in positive emotions. Positive responses are intentional and considerate. These responses are measured and thoughtful. As a result, it is possible to address negative situations in positive ways because your heart is focused on doing what is right, not being right. Parents that focus on positive interactions with their children build better relationships with them. The deposits of attention and intention allow for the occasional withdrawal without overdrawing the relational bank account.
It is recommended that you target five positives to one negative. Some parents (especially those with negative tendencies and command/control style) argue that too much positively distorts reality. They have a need to be “real.” Here is the deal; it is possible to be real and keep it positive. Speaking the truth to a child is only impactful if the relationship is healthy. The child always on the defense will never be receptive to a parent’s “real” feedback. Parents almost always make it about themselves. They fail to see their child as a person just like them with needs, challenges, and obstacles. We are insensitive to the reality that is the life our children are living. It is ignorance in its purest form, yet we all do it.
Children are a reflection of their parents. 80% of their learning from us through observation, while only 20% is from listening to our words. Parents ask, “why should I ever talk to them about life lessons or mentor them?” The answer is because when your words match your actions, you are truly effective in positively impacting your child. Kids are constantly scanning for hypocrisy or lack of integrity. Parents that struggle the most in their relationships with their children talk the talk but fail to walk the walk.
If you desire a lasting and meaningful relationship with your children, focus on the following:
There are rarely benefits to being the negative Nancy, and science has proven that we can enhance all of our relationships with a 3 to 1 positive ratio.
Walk the Talk.
If you want your children to be a certain way, you will need to model that behavior. Remember, they are watching your every move. If you want them to put their electronic devices down, you will have to lead by putting your device down first.
See them as People.
Our children are not us. Too often, parents see their children as extensions of themselves. They want them to do well because they feel better about themselves. When their children fail, they worry about what others might think of them. Our children are independent humans that share our genetic code. Acknowledge them as people and help guide them with your experience, and lead by example.
Talk less, listen more.
When your child comes to you with a problem, you have two obvious choices. You could try to solve it for them with your experience, or you could ask questions to help them better understand the problem and options for resolution. Teaching children to solve problems is the greatest gift a parent can teach.
If the goal is to raise competent, confident, capable, and independent children, we must teach them how to solve problems. Life is one big problem that needs solving every day. Solving problems also requires embracing change.