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The Magic Formula for Happy Kids

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Did you know that the secret to a happy marriage is the same as the secret to happy kids? It’s a simple ratio. John Gottman, a marriage researcher, found that a ratio of 5 positive interactions to each one negative interaction tipped the balance from a troubled relationship to a happy, healthy relationship. He called this the Magic Ratio.

You can apply this principle today with your child. Start by noticing your positive and negative interactions. Keep a chart on the fridge and make tally marks to help you keep track. Andrew Armstrong researched this ratio between parents and small children and found that his control group generally had a 1:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions with their young children.

Good parents often are more negative with their kids than they realize. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? So the behaviors that need to be “fixed” are the ones that get the attention from us. It comes much less naturally to continually notice the good.

Parents often ask if loving correction and discipline is considered a “negative” interaction. Imagine that your warm and supportive boss has constructive criticism to offer on your job performance. Even though you know she has your best interest at heart, it really helps when she sandwiches that criticism with praise. Do the same for your child. There is nothing wrong with discipline done with love, but that correction needs to be well-padded with encouragement, affection, and affirmation.

Let’s prime the positivity pump with some brainstorming about positive interactions you can have with your child:

  • Tell him something specific he’s doing well
  • Give her tasks she can accomplish and praise her efforts
  • Look him in the eye when he’s talking
  • Share her excitement
  • Cuddle, hug, kiss
  • Help him feel safe
  • Surprise her with things she likes
  • Respond promptly to his requests
  • Play with him
  • Take her seriously when she’s being serious
  • Tell others about her accomplishments
  • Say, “I love you!”
  • Let your face show your happiness when he walks in the room
  • Read her a book
  • Tell him stories about when he was smaller

Can you add to the list? Which ones can you do today? Feel free to make yourself a star chart to reinforce your efforts!

For further reading:

Andrew B. Armstrong's "Altering Positive/Negative Interaction Ratios in Relationships of Mothers and Young Children: A Preliminary Investigation"

Dr. John Gottman's "Emotional Keys for Successful Parenting"

Dr. John Gottman's "The Five Elements of Emotion Coaching"


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