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Ho Family

Consider the 5 to 1 Ratio theory

Today’s Family Resource piece is written by Erica Ho, Director of Missions for America World. It is our hope and prayer that these resources and stories will speak to you in these interesting days we’ve found ourselves navigating.

In an addition to serving as the Director Missions at America World I am also a mom to four children, some through the gift of international adoption and some through the gift of a nine-month backache. Like you, I’ve been faced with some interesting days during this COVID-19 season. At this point it wouldn’t shock me if I woke up tomorrow and watched an alien spacecraft descend from the sky.

Learning to work from home and balance the needs of my children, who now need to complete online learning, has been a task for the ages. There have been eruptions, interruptions, conference call debacles and rainy days that caused everyone to question their stability and sanity. As I realized how long this season would last it became clear that while a schedule would ensure that I could work and complete my job responsibilities well, a schedule would not fill the emotional needs of my children during this time. The early weeks of this pandemic were filled with me pointing to schedules from behind my computer and collapsing at 5pm after carrying the strain of working and dictating and being met with constant opposition from my kids.

I believe many of us were on either side of the spectrum: Running the house like a drill sergeant or just letting natural selection take over and allowing the kids to run the house with wild abandon. I was the drill sergeant. As this realization hit, mostly by watching my children buckle under pressure, I recalled the 5:1 ratio. This is is a theory, or scientific finding from the 1970s by. Dr. Gottman and his research team.

Dr. Gottman observed a great many married couples and was able to predict the success of their marriage within 15 minutes. The discovery was actually quite simple. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. There is a very specific ratio that makes love sustainable. That “magical ratio” is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five, or even more, positive interactions.

This theory absolutely works with parenting as well. Especially parenting during what is perceived, by all of us, as a crisis. Our schedules have been stolen, our plans dashed… and we are now teachers, coaches, therapists, entertainers and more. My immediate response to crisis parenting was to control my children and to schedule my children. Our positive interactions were few because I didn’t schedule them. As you might guess this left us all feeling even more overwhelmed and truthfully, unloved.

It was time to bring in the 5:1 ratio theory. I googled a list of positive interactions, I’ll provide them for you below, and I scheduled art therapy and family workout times at the end of every work and school day. The nugget at the end of all the scheduling and work was now watercolors, chocolate, deep breathing and virtual art teachers with French accents. Wednesday nights became family nights, a time when we attempted to recreate events that we enjoyed before things were closed… movies, ice cream bars, recipe creations that looked like our favorite restaurants. I’m still working through my list of affirmations, but it’s my personal challenge and joy to insert them between the directions I give throughout the day, still from behind my computer, but perhaps with a softer and more loving message.

This pandemic has, in her vicious removal of our schedules, allowed us a unique opportunity to examine ourselves in crisis and adjust the way we love our children. They need us to lead well during this moment in time. They need us to fill their cups. It’s not a magic pill, but strategic positive affirmations are a great place to start. Try it out, balance every negative or stressful interaction with at least five positive statements. Here’s a list to get you started.

  1. You are helpful.
  2. You were right.
  3. I know you did your best.
  4. I’m grateful for you.
  5. You have great ideas.
  6. I love being your mom.
  7. I believe in you.
  8. You are important.
  9. You make me proud.
  10. You are loved.
  11. You don’t have to be perfect to be amazing.
  12. I believe you.
  13. You are worth it.
  14. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.
  15. It’s good to be curious.
  16. We all make mistakes, it’s OK.
  17. I understand you.
  18. You can say no.
  19. This family would not be the same without you.
  20. We can try it your way.
  21. I appreciate you.
  22. I know you did your best.
  23. I forgive you.
  24. I am so glad you’re here.
  25. That was really brave what you did.
  26. I admire you.
  27. It’s your decision.
  28. If you really believe in something, it’s important.
  29. Don’t give up.
  30. I could never stop loving you.
  31. You can try again tomorrow.
  32. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
  33. You are enough.
  34. It’s OK to be scared.
  35. Even if you make a mistake, you can fix it.
  36. Being kind does not make you weak.
  37. Your ideas are great.
  38. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing.
  39. Anything is possible.
  40. You can make a difference.
  41. I love how you said that.
  42. I’m listening.
  43. You did that so well.
  44. You make my heart full.
  45. Not everyone will like you, and that is okay.
  46. You have a choice.
  47. That’s a great question.
  48. I’m so excited to spend time with you.
  49. That was a really good choice.
  50. I trust you.
  51. I hear you.
  52. Your attitude can change any situation.
  53. You are a great friend.
  54. Never stop trying.
  55. I’ll always love you.



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