Using the “Magic Ratio” as a Parent

We all want what is best for our children, and there is so much for them to learn on their path to becoming responsible and happy adults. It’s easy to be critical of our children throughout this long process – there’s so much to correct! I mean, if I had a nickel for each time my kids left their dirty clothes on the floor…well, I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d have a lot more money than I do now!

The problem with our various forms of “correction” is that it can start to take a toll on our relationships with our children. For relationships to be healthy and effective, psychologists have found that we need to have a ratio of about five positive interactions for every one negative interaction. Dr. John Gottman, a renowned couples therapy expert, dubbed this 5:1 ratio as the “Magic Ratio” with regard to happy and healthy romantic partnerships. However, this ratio of positive to negative interactions also seems to hold true in other types of relationships as well: parents and children, teachers and students, friendships, and work teams.

One way of having positive interaction with our children is though praise. If we are looking for our children’s positive behavior, it is easy to find. In fact, they are usually behaving well and doing what they are supposed to do, it’s just that we forget to notice. It takes some effort at first but, with practice, we can learn to praise the numerous positive behaviors that our children exhibit.

To make these positive interactions more meaningful and powerful, be specific. Instead of saying, “Good job in soccer today!” try something like, “Josh, you did a wonderful job passing the ball in today’s soccer game. That one pass to Ben set up an awesome goal!” Another benefit of using the Magic Ratio is that, when we do need to correct our children’s behavior, our children are much more likely to respond favorably. Positive interactions create a fertile soil from which healthy relationships grow, so be sure to try to use the Magic Ratio as a parent…and in all your other relationships as well!

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Dr. Mike Brooks

Dr. Mike Brooks

Dr. Brooks is a Licensed Psychologist and the executive director of ABA Connect and the Austin Psychology & Assessment Center (ApaCenter). He has been working in the mental health field in Austin for over 20 years. He and his associates provide therapy, assessment services for children through adults. He also maintains another blog on the ApaCenter website.
Dr. Mike Brooks

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  1. […] Use the Magic Ratio to build positive relationships. Research has found that a ratio of about 5:1 positive interactions (e.g., supportive words, pats on the back) to negative interactions is found in healthy, effective relationships of all varieties (e.g., marriages, friendships, parent-child, teams). Ensuring that we follow this Magic Ratio in our interactions with our children is likely to build the type of positive relationship that allows us to have greater positive influence in their lives. […]

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