100 couples get divorced in America every hour. These divorces cost 11 billion dollars a year in legal fees and result in 43% of kids in the States being raised without their dads. Tragic. But what’s causing all these divorces? Getting married too quickly? Staying out too late? Not enough sex?
The predictor of divorce
In 1992, John Gottman studied 147 couples and found it wasn’t any of the above. It was a ratio - the ratio of positive comments to negative comments that the couples made to each other Couples who got divorced made more or less the same number of positive and negative comments to each other. Couples who stayed happily married made six times more positive comments about each other’s behavior than negative comments. This is the golden ratio, 6:1. Positive : negative. Praise : criticism.
But I’m not married, I don’t care!
Okay, but this golden ratio does have applications in other areas of life. At work, the biggest difference between successful and unsuccessful teams is the ratio of positive to negative comments the team members give each other (Heaphy & Losada, 2004). In the classroom, the golden ratio can be the difference between your students acting like little angels or little monkeys. So how can you put the golden ratio into practice?
Set rules. There’s no point in giving positive and negative comments about your students’ behavior if they don’t know how they’re meant to behave. Spend the first 5 minutes of every lesson eliciting what your kids can and can’t do in the classroom. If they don’t have enough English, get them to act out classroom rules or explain in their first language.
Reinforce positive behavior. Catch them doing something right. When nine of your students are jumping up and down shouting out answers, praise the quiet kid in the corner with his hand up. If one student forgets their homework, praise the nine that remembered it.
Ratio. Make sure that every one of your students gets six times more positive reinforcement for their behavior than criticism. Praise students for raising their hands, coming on time, helping others, participating, putting their stuff away quickly at the end of the lesson, etc.
Just think - two couples have signed their annulment papers since you started reading this. Their relationships are a lost cause, but that overexcited class on a Tuesday night isn’t! Next time you find yourself about to scold that naughty kid at the back for chatting with his desk mate, ask yourself, “Have I praised him for being well behaved six times yet?”
Want to learn more? Listen to the behavior management podcast.