It was years ago now when a friend who had adopted two little girls with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) told me about the 10:1 ratio. The idea was that for every one word of correction that we receive we need another ten words of praise and affirmation.
That’s because our brains are really good at filtering out and dismissing the good things we hear – and we’re even better at remember the negative.
I’ve since seen this wisdom repeated in books on trauma therapy, books on attachment theory, and even articles on buzzfeed – so I know the idea is getting around. But I’m not sure whether we’ve really taken it in when it comes to our kids.
Because if you’re anything like me, then this approach is going to take a little bit of time to get used to. You may even find the whole concept a bit overwhelming, and if so, a few of these ideas might help you to get started:
Take every opportunity to point out the positive. If we need ten words of praise for every correction then we’re going to have to get really intentional about finding things to praise our kids for.
- They didn’t throw their shoes off when they came in the house? “Great job taking your shoes off gently.”
- Their peas only went as far as the edge of their placemat? “I see how hard you’re trying to eat neatly. Well done.”
- You only have to wake them up twice in the morning? “Good morning, sunshine! Thanks for waking up so willingly!”
To begin with this process can feel unwieldy and awkward, but it doesn’t take long before their beaming smiles and improved cooperation help to reinforce your hard work.
Consider carefully whether this correction is worth it. In this new way of thinking about praise and correction, there is a cost to both you and your child whenever you correct them. Nagging goes in here too. And so we need to start asking ourselves, is this correction worth the cost?
For example, when your little one leaves the hand towel on the floor every time they wash their hands because they’re not quite tall enough to reach it, is it worth correcting them every time? Or do you just need to put a longer towel on the rack so that they can reach easily?
When correction is necessary, always sandwich it in praise. I don’t mean surround it by meaningless statements just to try to make your child feel good. I mean take the time to find all of the good in the situation.
For example, “Elizabeth I’ve been so impressed with how well you’ve been playing with Dylan today. You shared your blocks with him, and you played PlayDoh with him and you helped me make a snack for you both. Those were great things you did. And I know you thought you were just playing, but it’s never okay to throw your food. Can you help me clean this up please? … Thank you so much for helping me clean up the food, Elizabeth. You did a great job with the broom and dustpan.”
The process of shifting our focus from correction to praise takes time, but the impact can be substantial as our children begin to gain a positive sense of both their own self-esteem and also of their capacity to valuably contribute to the family. It might not be easy, but I can guarantee that it will be worth it!