(Today’s post is written by the very talented and insightful Lori Lowe. You may have seen her blog Marriage Gems recently on Freshly Pressed where it was featured for three days and recorded over 40,000 page views in four days. Here’s a glimpse of why her posts are so popular.)
As a marriage researcher and writer, I frequently come across studies that offer tips on benefiting marriages. I often find the same tips can also help improve my relationship with my kids. Here are four tips that can help you improve your relationship with grown-ups or little ones in your home.
1.) Use the 5-to-1 Ratio
Dr. John Gottman says marriages that survive have five positive interactions for each negative one. Words of praise, gratitude, love, kindness, affection or a sincere compliment fall under the positive interaction category, while a complaint or argument fall under the negative side. The single negative interaction is important, because couples are able to work out problems or frustrations and communicate honestly during those times.
It’s interesting to relate this advice to children. Obviously, we are not at risk for breaking up with our kids. However, it’s not always easy to maintain a positive relationship with them as they grow up –including the toddler and teen years! I sometimes find myself having far too many negative interactions (“Hurry up, you’re late for school!” or “Why are you dilly dallying on your homework?” or “I don’t think you did your personal best on this work.”) I sometimes need to remind myself to offer positive words and encouragement.
On frustrating days, I try to offer myself and my children some grace, and then take time to reconnect with them while doing something they enjoy, such as playing a game, or talking about something fun they did at school. One of my kids’ favorite activities is eating. (They’re skinny kids, but they eat like horses.) So, connecting around the dinner table is great timing for them. They are so appreciative of the cooking and the food—even if it’s broccoli with garlic salt or spaghetti—and they love to share a story while they are relaxed and full.
Bedtime offers another time to balance the 5 to 1 ratio, with snuggles, reading and chats about the next day’s activities. While boosting the positive words, be careful about offering empty praise (“Good job!”). Instead praise specific actions, such as, “I like the way you invited the new girl to play with you on the playground,” or “You made a real effort on the soccer field today.”
2.) Increase Touch
Other relationship research shows frequent touching in romantic couples helps improve their bonds. In fact, increased touching (high fives or butt slaps) even increased bonds between athletes and improved their team performance. It should go without saying that kids need lots of positive touch.
When you’re having a difficult conversation with a child (or a husband), it’s particularly important to touch them in a gentle way. Think hugs in the morning and after school, cuddles during the day, massages and gentle stroking for babies and toddlers, butterfly kisses or special hugs at night. Don’t give up on touching teens affectionately; they need the pats on the shoulder and the hugs just as much as younger kids.
3.) Celebrate Good News
A third study I’ll share has to do with supporting your loved ones, particularly when they have GOOD news. It seems a little backwards, but it’s crucial to improving relationships. Studies show couples are supportive during tough times, but often apathetic when good news happens. Since there are more good times than bad (for most people, thankfully), our loved ones may see us as not understanding who they are and what they value when we don’t encourage and praise them when things go well.
Having a cheerful response to both our spouses and our kids, and celebrating with them when something small or big goes well can tremendously boost your relationship. Good news for your kids might include success during potty training, making the team they tried out for, doing well on a paper or test they worked hard on, or getting a date with someone special. Try to stay in tune with what is important to them.
4.) Put Your Marriage First
I believe the above studies offer insight that is useful to maintain and improve positive relationships with our children, but more important advice is found in the book To Raise Healthy Kids, Put Your Marriage First. Read my summary and review. Putting our marriage first not only benefits your marriage, it benefits your children in ways we didn’t understand in the past. Giving too much attention to kids, it turns out, only does them harm, by not giving them the opportunity to develop and problem-solve. Of course, it can also hurt the marriage, thereby jeopardizing the sense of security our children enjoy.
For hundreds of research-based marriage tips, visit www.LifeGems4Marriage.com. Lori Lowe is marriage columnist and blogger from Indianapolis. For 15 years, Lori has been happily married to her husband, a pilot who keeps her grounded. They live in Indianapolis with their two children, a crazy cat and two aquatic frogs.