The Emotional Bank

The 7 to 1 Rule will change your understanding about discipline. What is an emotional bank account?

By: Kathryne Savage Imabayashi

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This concept was first discussed by Dr. Stephen R. Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families.  The main idea is that with every relationship you have, you form a joint emotional bank account, whether consciously or not.  With consistent positive deposits you are creating a sense of security and trust. In contrast, when your withdrawals accumulate, that sense of safety and trust is replaced with anxiety and stress.

If you are struggling to communicate with your child, or feel like you are constantly disciplining him, it may be time to look at the bank account and find ways to make some deposits.

Deposits that create more trust in relationships are honesty, kindness, patience, and unconditional love.

Most of the time we are not aware that we are making a withdrawal until it is too late. The important thing to remember is to find ways to replenish the emotional bank.

Let’s look at some everyday examples where we are making withdrawals from our child’s emotional bank:

  • breaking promises
  • placing blame
  • being unkind
  • shaming
  • being judgemental
  • shouting at your child
  • being sarcastic

When we realize that we are making these withdrawals, we quickly need to apologize and replace any more withdrawals with some deposits.

Here are some ideas for deposits:

  • apologize sincerely for mistakes you make
  • actively listen when your child is talking to you
  • spend time with them; do something together
  • be affection when you see them after being apart; let them know you missed them
  • be attentive to what they are doing and comment on it
  • be patient and forgiving
  • laugh together
  • keep your promises; say what you mean and mean what you say

A rule of thumb is that for every one withdrawal you must replace it with seven deposits. Sometimes things get in a negative spiral and it seems like our child is doing one thing after another that is one kind of misbehaviour or another.

Let’s think about two examples.

In the first one Johnny seems to be on a downhill trend. First he gets in trouble at school, is not allowed to go out for recess with his friends,  and gets grounded when he gets home. That event barely passes before his mom has to separate Johnny and his little brother in a physical altercation over a computer game. Johnny ends up losing computer privileges for a week. The last straw came when he lashed out in anger when he was told to help his dad clean out the garage.

Now let’s take an alternative view, one that Johnny’s parents know about the Emotional Bank and the 7 X 1 Rule.

Mom greets her son at the bus stop with a big smile and words of endearment. But Johnny did not have a good day! He had gotten in trouble and had lost his recess. (He has just suffered from one withdrawal). Mom  says that must have been really tough and asks if he wants to talk about it. She has just made 3 deposits – she greeted him warmly when he got off the bus, she actively listened, and didn’t judge. They discussed the issue and since it had been handled, it was over. Mom still needs to find 4 ways to make deposits in order to strengthen Johnny’s Emotional Bank.

After he puts his things away mom asks if he would like to make some cookies with her. Johnny loves to bake – and really loves chocolate child cookies. While they are making the cookies mom shares some stories and they both have a good laugh. Another two deposits – spending time together with laughter.

Dad comes home a bit later. He had promised to take Johnny’s bike to the repair shop and has just picked it up, good as new. Boom – another deposit: dad kept his promise.

It won’t take long for that last deposit to be made, but most probably Johnny will feel loved and secure enough that there won’t be a series of negative behaviour events any time soon. That one withdrawal will not cause a downhill trend because his parents have quickly filled up the emotional bank account with deposits!

We won’t catch all the withdrawals but if our focus is on positive deposits we will be creating a positive environment. But if we realize that it seems like our boy is getting in more trouble than usual, you can be sure the Emotional Bank account is out of balance. Make some deposits!

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