Counterbalancing the Negative Impact of Divorce for Your Children


Recently while thumbing through some old posts, I stumbled on this little gem about a powerful, yet simple way parents can counterbalance the negative impact of divorce for kids.

Several years ago while co-presenting a class for separated and divorced parents my good friend and colleague, David Hays, put this ” magic” strategy on my radar.

For decades the work of relationship expert John Gottman and his 5 to 1  “magic ratio”  have been held in high regard as a tool in determining the difference between happy and unhappy couples. Basically the idea is this…  for every negative comment or interaction that takes place between a couple, it takes five positive comments or interactions to offset the damage.

Turns out the realtionship between parents and children is impacted in a very similar way.   Much like a bank account, as a parent you want to make more deposits than withdrawls with your kids.

While I’ve known of the importance of providing kids with positive feedback and validation, I can honestly say I’d never thought about tracking my negative to positive ratio. To be honest, when I started thinking about Gottman’s theory the first thing that came to mind was all the interactions I had with my children on a daily basis around activities like… doing homework, getting ready for school, picking up around the house, chores and going to bed on time. All of the sudden, my positive to negative ratio didn’t seem all that impressive.

Negative verbal interactions can often result in the development of negative self-talk for kids. Children who engage in negative self-talk are also more likely to be depressed, feel anxious and have low self-esteem. When you consider the dynamics of separation and divorce, the multitude of ways children can be affected by negative words can be daunting. Not only do you need to be aware of what you say to your children but you may also find yourself dealing with what the other parent says.

In today’s world, it is easy to lose sight of the power of words. However, it is important to realize that what we say to our children often stays with our children, positive or negative.

To minimize the negative aspects associated with separation, consider placing your energy into being proactive. While you may not have control over everything your child hears, experiences or is told, raising your level of awareness so that you can implement the 5 to 1 ratio can make a huge difference.

Here are some tips to help you start counterbalancing the impact of divorce for your children in a positive way.

Be mindful of what you say to children.
Raising your level of awareness about how you talk to your children is an important first step. Make a mental note of what you say and how you say it.

Offer children descriptive praise versus a general praise.
Instead of saying, “Great job”, consider saying something like, “You did a really great job of coloring that picture. I can tell you put a lot of work into it.” or perhaps “ I am really proud of how you managed that situation. Even though you were angry, you chose not to be disrespectful.”

Catch kids being good and praise them often.
Whenever possible praise your kids for the things they are doing right.Also, make sure the praise you offer is sincere; kids will know when it isn’t.

This week pay attention to how and what you say to your children. Make a conscious effort to increase the number of positive statements they hear in a day. You may find that not only do they feel better but so do you!

Until next time,
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