How to Parent with the Magic 5:1 Ratio


If you’re a parent, these lines are all too familiar.

“Hurry and eat your breakfast, or you’ll be late for school. Stop teasing your sister. Do your homework. Clean your room. I’m taking away that NERF gun if you hit you brother one more time. Are you listening to me?!”

Annoyances and frustrations are an inevitable part of every parent’s day. If we aren’t paying attention, this stress can build up and unleash itself in our interactions with our kids. Remaining calm and not overreacting with our children can be hard to do when our patience is constantly being tested.

Everyone has instances where our emotions get the best of us. But bad moments don’t make a bad parent. Imperfection is in our DNA and keeping our emotions in check takes work.

It’s hard not to beat yourself up after losing your temper with your child. If you find yourself feeling guilty and remorseful after losing your cool with your kids here are some things you should do:

  1. Forgive yourself.
  2. Apologize to your child.
  3. Challenge yourself to five good acts.

To have healthy and happy adult relationships, research shows that you need a ratio of five positive interactions to every one negative interaction.

This concept also applies to parent-child relationships. Too many negative interactions with few positive exchanges in between can create distance between you and your child. But if you want to close the that gap, the 5:1 ratio can help. Keep in mind that the positive interaction must be something that the other person experiences as positive, not just something that seems positive to you. Take the time to observe your kids and learn what matters to them.

So if you’ve had a “rage moment” as my friend’s son has termed it, it’s important to get working on five positive interactions as soon as you can to reconnect and repair the relationship. You will be so glad you did, and your kids will too.

Michelle Rathburn, MAMFT

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