As we raise our children, our homes are the “school” that teaches them where they fit into the world. Are they lovable and valuable or are they irritants to be tolerated? Is the world a negative place or does it have the potential to be a friendly, supportive place?
One of our main goals as parents is to help our children develop into adults who see themselves as capable and lovable. We have the power to build them up or tear them down by the way we interact with them. More than anyone else, parents have the power to influence how children see themselves.
An easy way to understand this is by using the “Emotional Bank Account.” This term has gained popularity in many books, but it was actually developed by marriage and family therapist John Gottman, PhD. It is a term that makes it easier to understand the dynamics of healthy interactions. His research focused on building the marriage relationship, but we see the value of building emotional bank accounts with our children as well.
Each of us has an “emotional bank account.” It is made up of the words and actions of others. Just like an account we might have at a bank, it either has a large healthy balance, or it is over-drawn and running in the red. Gottman’s research indicates that we need about five “deposits” for every “withdrawal” if we want to prevent our bank account from running into the red. A deposit is anything positive and a withdrawal is anything negative.
Positives might include giving a compliment, telling your child how nice he looks in a particular shirt, or how impressed you are with how hard she worked at her homework, thanking her for carrying in groceries, asking her what she thinks would be good for dinner or giving him a compliment in front of others.
If we consistently make deposits, we build a large enough balance that the relationship will not suffer from an occasional withdrawal. In fact, teaching and correcting our children is an important part of helping them develop. If the relationship is in balance, the withdrawals are healthy and useful. Even an occasional use of a withdrawal in an angry or thoughtless way won’t do long term damage if the bank account is healthy.
Gary Chapman added to the emotional bank account research in his book, Love Languages. Chapman reminds us that while compliments are an important way to make deposits to an emotional bank account, they aren’t the only way. He examines how to build esteem and connection by focusing on the specific ways people interpret deposits to the emotional bank account. He has created five categories that help us understand the different ways people perceive acts of love.
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Receiving Gift
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
Words of Affirmation are compliments and praise. These words must be true or they will be a withdrawal. Quality time is meaningful to a child who feels more loved if you spend time with him. It might be playing a video game, doing a puzzle, or even coaching him in cleaning his room. Some children feel loved if you give them small gifts. This isn’t about big presents, it is a candy bar or a trinket from the dollar store. They enjoy the tangible showing of affection. Some children respond to acts of service. You may turn their dinner into a picnic by spreading a tablecloth in front of the fireplace or building a tent out of quilts. Many children respond best to physical touch. These are kids who love to hug you or be hugged by your. They love to sit close to you during a movie.
Building the emotional bank accounts with your spouse teaches children how parents take care of each other. Building the emotional bank accounts of our children makes them feel powerful and loveable.
By Debra Washburn
Debra Washburn works in both clinical and business settings helping people understand the power of self-management in creating productive, joyful lives. After many years working as a management and marketing consultant in the financial services industry, she trained and licensed as a marriage and family therapist.
She writes and speaks extensively on understanding how to build fulfilling relationships both within the family and in the workplace. In addition she has developed a focus on helping children thrive by learning a strong work ethic that builds self-esteem and prepares them for productive and rewarding adult lives. As a former teacher, the mother of four, and the grandmother of ten, she understands how learning to work helps children become self-sufficient problem solvers who are prepared to manage the challenges of a complicated and changing world. As a therapist, she outlines steps parents can take to help their children develop a strong sense of self by becoming good learners and good workers.
She did her undergraduate work in Education at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and her graduate work in Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, California.
She has served on many boards since moving back to Utah and enjoys being involved in the community.