Try this “Magic Ratio” With Your Kids Today

Is the communication in your home full of complaints, arguments, and whining? Chances are the “magic ratio” is off. Use these tips to bring some peace and calm to your family.

How to change the negative communication in your home.

After another extremely frustrating day battling his son about everything from screentime to bedtime, a parent sat down with me for a parent coaching session.

During our conversation, he noticed that he only called his child’s name in anger or frustration. He couldn’t think of a time recently that he used his child’s name to give a compliment or say something encouraging.

The observation shocked him.

So he decided to conduct an experiment.

For the next two weeks, he challenged himself to use his child’s name only in positive ways.

It wasn’t easy at first, but because he was focused on the experiment, he was able to interrupt his old pattern.

The results were surprising. Not only did he stop using his child’s name in anger, but he also found himself looking for opportunities to say his child’s name in a positive way. Their interactions were less combative. His child even seemed to be listening better.

The dad was pleased but skeptical.

Could this one small change have that much of an impact?


John Gottman, a relationship researcher, found that happy, stable relationships have a “magic ratio” of 5:1. That is, these couples had 5 (or more) positive interactions to every 1 negative interaction.

While the research wasn’t done on parent-child relationships, it’s fair to assume that having more positive interactions will lead to better outcomes, even with our kids.

I call this 5 positive to 1 negative ratio the “nice to nag” ratio. 

What is Your Ratio?

If the communication in your home is full of arguments, complaints, and whining, you may need to start by adjusting your “nice to nag” ratio.

Think back over the interactions you’ve had with your children over the past two or three days.

How many times have you given a reminder or redirection in a nagging way? How many times have you pointed out the things they forgot to do, a task that was incomplete, or a behavior that was undesirable? How many times did you use sarcasm or criticism? How many times did you complain, demand, or argue?

How many times have you encouraged or complimented? How many times have you been appreciative or noticed something they did well? How many times did you smile when they walked into the room? How many times did you listen, empathize, comfort, or connect? How many times did you set a boundary with kindness or look beyond behavior to the real concern underneath?

If your ratio is heavy on the negative interactions, you are not alone.

It’s not uncommon to get stuck in a pattern of unhealthy communication, engaging in daily battles, and feeling disconnected from one another.

Thankfully, you have an opportunity to change the ratio in your home.

How to embrace the “magic ratio”

Adjusting your “nice to nag” ratio may take some effort at first, but committing to having more positive interactions with your kids will pay off in the long run.

Here are some tips:

  • Notice and name. Take some time to recognize the patterns and habits in your family. Become aware of your own tendencies, your triggers, and interactions that usually end negatively. 
  • Be intentional. As you work to change the ratio, you may want to keep track of the positive things you’re noticing. Carrying something small in your pocket or wearing a rubber band around your wrist can act as a reminder to be aware of the ratio.
  • Think small. If you’re struggling to find positive things to say every day, break compliments into smaller chunks. Rather than making one general observation, notice the smaller nuances. Even if the entire interaction wasn’t ideal, point out the part that went well.
  • Go beyond “good job.” Instead of gushing praise, look for other ways to bring positive interactions into your relationship. Add some extra hugs or smile more often. Play a game or do an activity. Problem-solve together. Listen and reply with empathy.
  • Find a calm confidence. Focusing on the positive doesn’t mean you let your kids have whatever they want. You are still the parent, you can still set limits, the difference may be that these boundaries are set with kindness, rather than aggression, bribes, or threats.

Be kind to yourself as you work to change the ratio in your home. No one is expecting you to master this immediately, or to do it perfectly 100% of the time.

It’s OK for this to be a learning process.

And, it’s OK if you don’t see a dramatic result like the parent at the beginning of this post. Every family is unique.

Changing the ratio of positive to negative interactions may be one strategy among many to address your parenting concerns.

How Can I Help?

If you can relate to constant arguments, kids not listening, or negative communication patterns in your home, let’s talk! Online Parent Coaching sessions give you an opportunity to discuss challenges and find solutions that work for you and your unique family. Schedule a session today!

Nicole Schwarz (couch 3)

Welcome! I'm Nicole Schwarz.

I'm a Parent Coach, Licensed Therapist and Author of It Starts with You. I help stressed, overwhelmed, confused parents find calm, confidence and connection with their kids. No one is expecting perfection here. But, if you’re willing to examine your parenting, find encouragement, or try something new, this is the place for you.

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