What is your ratio?

A parent recently came for a session with her child. There'd been a significant amount of arguing that occurred over that past week. When asked about any positive interaction that occurred over the past week with her child, she had great difficulty coming up with any examples.

Often parents who are struggling with their children get trapped in a negative feedback loop with their child. Most of their interactions focus on correcting, scolding, reminding, or venting frustration with their child.


Although the research is not definitive on this, parents and children who have a higher ratio of positive to negative interactions tend to have a better relationship with each other. In my experience, a 3 to 1, positive to negative ratio or higher produces children who are more compliant, better adjusted, and happier children. Parents and children with a ratio of one to one or less tend to have more conflict with one another, strained emotional relationships, and acting out behavior.

There is an easy way to determine the ratio--ask. If your child is old enough to understand percentages, ask them: "Out of 100% of our interactions, how much of our interactions are positive and how much are negative?" You should also determine your own answer to this question.

Sometimes it is helpful to guess what your child might say before they give you an answer just to see how tuned in you are to their experience. Obviously if you think the ratio of positive interactions are much higher than they do, you will need to seek more clarification from them about why they feel that way.

You are looking for an answer around 75% positive to 25% negative in order to get that 3 to 1 ratio.

If your child answered 75% or better, give yourself a pat on the back. If you child answered 75% or less, make a more focused efforts to improve what you are noticing your child is doing well on a daily basis.