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Getting the Ratios Right

January 29, 2009 | The Main Dish | 3 comments

Is it possible to praise your children too much? Last year I spent a lot of time emphasizing the importance of growth-mindset praise, and as a result this is a question I get asked a lot. The corollary is about whether it is possible to be too happy, or to spend too much time emphasizing positive emotions. If we keep asking kids what they feel grateful for, will they stop telling us when they feel angry or afraid?

Great questions. I am never meaning to imply that I think we should only emphasize positive emotions and praise, that we should never utter a negative sound to our children. (Can you imagine?) Funny thing, there is actually research on optimal ratios of negative-to-positive.

Flourishing individuals—high functioning people who score well on things like self-acceptance, purpose in life, environmental mastery, positive relationships with others, and personal growth—experience a ratio of about 3 positive emotions to every negative one. Having more positive than negative "feelings is more generative—it's associated with more creativity and openness to possibilities," says Barbara Fredrickson, who pioneered this research.

John Gottman has shown that unless a married couple can maintain a ratio of 5 positive comments or interactions to every negative one, their marriage is likely to end. (Those that get divorced typically have slightly fewer positive interactions than negative ones.) Similarly, high performance teams have a ratio of almost 6 positive "utterances" to 1 negative.

Researchers conclude that because negative emotions and experiences affect us more dramatically than positive ones do—feelings of being frightened, for example, will generally stay with us for much longer than having a good laugh—we need to have more positive experiences and feelings to thrive.

Research also shows that there is an upper limit to the amount of positive feelings a person can take, however. Specifically, a ratio above 11.6 positive experiences or feelings to 1 negative can, ironically, turn a person sour. This is not something that I'm going to worry about, though. I mean really: if I leap too high I might also hit my head on a cloud.

So yes, it is possible to emphasize the positive too much, to dole out too darn much praise. But at least in my household, the challenge is not too much positive, but in keeping the ratio of positive to negative "utterances" from me to the kids around 5 or 6.

© 2008 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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Ten 2008 Tips for Raising Happy Kids

January 6, 2009 | The Main Dish, Posts with Videos | 2 comments

  1. Replace Your Kids' Annoying Behaviors with Happiness Habits

    Some of the most irritating things our kids do (whining and tattling come to mind) are nothing more than bad habits, and as we all know, bad habits are tough to break! Science has shown that people who are successful in making changes do it in 5 very specific stages.

    Happiness on Auto-Pilot
    Why rewards are rewarding
    The stages of change
    Lapse & Relapse

  2. Nip Materialism in the Bud

    As we emerge from a season of gluttony and consumption, let's refocus our kids on the things that really do create happiness.

    Video: Materialism v. Altruism
    How Do You Really Feel About the Holidays?
    Happiness is being socially connected

  3. Teach Your Kids How to Fight

    Conflict is entirely necessary for intellectual, emotional, and even moral growth. However, kids don't know how to settle disputes constructively until we teach them.

    Conflict: It's a Good Thing
    10 Steps to peace in your household
    Marital Fighting Posting
    TV Clip: How to Fight with Your Co-parent

  4. Foster Forgiveness

    Unforgiving people tend to be hateful, angry, and hostile—which also makes
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    them anxious, depressed, and neurotic. So unless we are okay with our children embodying those qualities, we need to teach them how and why to forgive others.

    Forgive… And Feel Happier

  5. Eat Dinner Together

    Even if you are crazy busy, eating together is important for kids' success and happiness. Mealtime can be a routine rich with meaning that combines the basic human needs of emotional nurturance and physical nutrition.

    Video: The Value of Family Dinners – Part I
    Video: The Value of Family Dinners – Part II
    What Kids Learn During Family Meals
    Making Mealtime Worth the Effort

  6. Cancel Your Cable

    Television brings little or no benefits, but it replaces activities that do make kids happier, healthier, and smarter.

    Video: Turn Off the Boob Tube
    How Much "Screen Time" is Too Much?
    Play and Academic Success

  7. Cultivate Creativity

    Contrary to popular belief, creativity is more skill than inborn talent, and it is a skill parents can help their kids develop. Because it is a key to success in nearly everything we do, creativity is a key component of success and happiness.

    7 Ways to Foster Creativity in Your Kids
    Play and Academic Success
    Video: The Power of "Child's Play

  8. Just Say No to Perfectionism

    A lot of people incorrectly assume that perfectionism propels kids to the top of their class, their teams, and eventually their fields. But to the contrary, research shows that perfectionism tends to detract from success.

    Perfectionism is a Disease
    How Parents Can Propel Their Kids Towards Perfectionism
    How to Help Undo Your Kids Perfectionism
    TV Clip: Letting Go of Being Perfect

  9. Be Like Obama: Breed Hope

    Optimism is so closely related to happiness that the two can practically be equated. And guess what? Optimism is a teachable skill.

    Raising Optimistic Kids
    The Benefits of Optimism

  10. Consciously Practice Gratitude

    I think this is the most important happiness habit in the history of the universe.

    Video: How Not to Raise an Ungrateful Brat
    Gratitude is an Attitude
    Teaching Gratitude in a Culture of Entitlement

    Speaking of gratitude: I am very grateful to have completed my first year as a blogger! Writing this blog is among the most satisfying things I've ever done, and so I'm so thankful to all of you who read and comment and ask questions. I am also eternally grateful to Kelly Corrigan, who helped me launch Half Full in late 2007 (see these videos).

    My New Year's Resolutions? One is to do a better job responding to your emails and questions. So send 'em my way!

    © 2008 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

    Join the Campaign for 100,000 Happier Parents by signing this simple pledge.

    Become a fan of Raising Happiness on Facebook.

    Follow Christine Carter on Twitter

    Subscribe to the Happiness Matters Podcast on iTunes.

    Sign up for the Raising Happiness CLASS!

 
 
 
 
  

Like this post?

Here's what you can do:

Donate
 
  
 
  

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Learn more about the science of raising happy kids in Christine Carter's popular book.

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Raising Happiness

 

Private: Radio: Is Happiness a Skill?

December 26, 2008 | | 0 comments

Christine speaks about whether happiness is a skill on Ronna Renner's radio show, Childhood Matters.

Subscribe to the Half Full Radio Podcast to hear this and other radio clips.

 
 
 
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