Recently, I was reminded of a powerful yet simple way parents can counterbalance the negative impact of divorce for their children. David Hays, both a good friend and colleague of mine, co-facilitates a monthly parenting class with me. He is one of the best behavior specialists for children I know and is an expert at helping adults interact with children in a more positive and productive way.
During our last presentation, he recommended that parents use a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative statements with their children. Based on the work of relationship expert John Gottman and his “magic ratio,” professionals suggest children need to hear approximately five positive statements for every negative comment they receive to offset the impact of those statements.
While I have always been aware of the importance of providing children with positive feedback and affirmations, I can honestly say I had never thought about it in this way. Personally, my first thoughts were about how well I was balancing “less than positive” interactions my children around daily activities such as doing homework, getting ready for school and going to bed.
Negative verbal interactions can often result in the development of negative self-talk for kids. Children who engage in negative self-talk are also more likely to be depressed, feel anxious and have low self-esteem. When you consider the dynamics of separation and divorce, the multitude of ways children can be affected by negative words can be daunting. Not only do you need to be aware of what you say to your children but you may also find yourself dealing with what the other parent says.
In today’s world, it is easy to lose sight of the power of words. However, it is important to realize that what we say to our children often stays with our children, positive or negative.
To minimize the negative aspects associated with separation, I recommend placing your energy into being proactive. While you may not have control over everything your child hears, experiences or is told, raising your level of awareness so that you can implement the 5 to 1 ratio can make a huge difference.
Here are some tips to help you start counterbalancing the impact of divorce for your children in a positive way.
Be mindful of what you say to children.
Raising your level of awareness about how you talk to your children is an important first step. Make a mental note of what you say and how you say it.
Offer children descriptive praise versus a general praise.
Instead of saying, “Great job”, consider saying something like, “You did a really great job of coloring that picture. I can tell you put a lot of work into it.”
or perhaps “ I am really proud of how you managed that situation. Even though you were angry, you chose not to be disrespectful.”
Catch kids being good and praise them often.
Whenever possible praise your kids for the things they are doing right.
Also, make sure the praise you offer is sincere; kids will know when it isn’t.
This week pay attention to how and what you say to your children. Make a conscious effort to increase the number of positive statements they hear in a day. You may find that not only do they feel better but so do you!
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