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Hugs and Love and Everything Nice: How to Fill Your Child's "Emotional Bank Account"

Photo by Andreas Gradin / Stocksy United / 42430
Photo by Andreas Gradin / Stocksy United

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey likens relationships to emotional bank accounts.

We all understand how bank accounts work in the financial world. When we regularly make deposits, our accounts grow, and we have security should something unexpected happen. If we only make withdrawals, our accounts are quickly depleted or worse yet, overdrawn. The result is that we have no security...and we may feel worried, anxious, or even panicked.

Emotional bank accounts work on the same principle, only with feelings rather than finances. As parents, we are the guarantors of our children’s emotional bank accounts. By our words and actions, we can make deposits or withdrawals, either adding to the balance or allowing it to dwindle.

It’s easy to imagine the kinds of behaviors that lower our children’s emotional reserves: yelling, not listening, spanking, breaking promises, bribing, nagging, criticizing, using a disrespectful tone of voice…the list goes on and on.

Interestingly, parents often find it more difficult to come up with ways that they make deposits to their children’s emotional bank accounts, but there are so many loving things we do to fill their coffers. Hugging, kissing, saying "I love you," spending time together, listening, and giving children choices that empower them as individuals are all great examples.

I love the metaphor of the emotional bank account because it reminds me of what we all really need: to feel loved, understood, valuable, important, listened to, and validated.

If you consistently make deposits to your children’s account, the "emotional reserves" will compensate for your less-than-stellar parenting moments. Your kids will be more likely to forgive you/ cut you some slack/ give you a free pass if you make a mistake, as all of us do—by yelling after a particularly stressful day at work, for example. On the other hand, if you've been making a lot of withdrawals to your child's account, and you need your child to get in his car seat or set the table or do her homework, most likely, you may find that you won’t get the cooperation you want.

We often make withdrawals without even realizing it, despite the best intentions. Next time your child is misbehaving, ask yourself, "How is my account with my child? Is it full or overdrawn?"

You can make deposits any time by proactively doing things that build your relationship and emotional connection with your child. Bonus: This strategy works with all relationships—spouses, siblings, coworkers, friends, everyone! Double bonus: Crediting other people’s accounts not only makes them feel good, it will make you feel good too!

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