Your Kids: Why The 5:1 Principle is Critical

Your Kids: Why The 5:1 Principle is Critical

By Caron C. Andrews

Research shows that in order to have a stable relationship, the ratio of positive to negative interactions should be at least 5:1—five positive interactions for every negative one (Lisitsa, 2012). This was the finding of Dr. John Gottman, a world-renowned psychologist whose work with couples has led to groundbreaking research on marital stability and divorce prediction (John Gottman Biography, 2014). Although Gottman’s research is focused on marriage and couples, it can also be applied to parent-child relationships. Obviously parents and children do not divorce each other, but their relationships can be turbulent and can sustain long-term damage if not properly balanced.

Conflict is a natural part of any relationship. Parents and children notoriously have conflicts over all kinds of things—curfews, dating, homework, friends—you name it. That isn’t a bad thing—teenagers have to test the boundaries as much as parents need to protect and guide their kids. But many parents fall into the trap of only communicating by barking out orders and negative statements: do your homework, clean up your room, you’re wearing too much makeup. Have you ever taken a look at how many of this kind of statement you make to your kids versus how many positive exchanges you have in a day? It may be time to. Take a typical day and measure your statements and interactions with your child—what do you find? Is the negative overpowering the positive? If you don’t like the results, you can do something about it. Try the following, using the 5:1 ratio to keep your relationships balanced.

  • Follow Up

Some negativity is necessary for corrections in behavior, for consequences, and for punishment. It’s good and healthy, and so is keeping up the flow of positive expressions and encounters with your child through the negative situations. You can still hug and praise your child for something good he did at school today even though he’s grounded for something he did yesterday.

  • Admit When You’re Wrong

Sometimes you may yell at your child over a misunderstanding or without complete information, and then you realize you’ve made a mistake. It’s very important that you are able to admit your mistake to your child. Apologize and explain what had upset you with the information (or misinformation) you had at the time. Praise your child for the things she did right or well in the situation.

  • Share Your Experiences

When you’ve criticized your child’s way of handling a problem or yelled at him for not being where he was supposed to be, you can share how the same situation affected you badly when you were a kid. Giving examples of things that have happened in your own life when you messed up can make an impression on your child. Give him the message that you care for him and don’t want to see him experience what you did.

Keeping things balanced in your interactions with your kids will help you have a good, trusting relationship with them. They need as much positive expression as marriages do in order to be strong and flourish.

See our new book 30 Days to a Stronger Child to find lessons related to this topic and learn ways and activities to help your child be stronger!

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John Gottman Biography. (2014). Retrieved from 

Lisitsa, E. (2012, December 3). The Positive Perspective: Dr. Gottman’s Magic Ratio! [Web log post]. Retrieved from