A Child’s Emotional Bank Account

At a parenting seminar I recently attended, someone asked a room full of parents, “What is the most difficult aspect of raising successful children?”

The most memorable response drew a lot of laughs; “The first twenty-five years.”

Indeed, there are numerous challenges we parents face from the toddler times through their teenage years, and beyond!

A parenting tip to gain cooperation and good conduct is to make frequent deposits into our children’s emotional bank account.

What is an emotional bank account? Think of it this way: When your checking account is overdrawn, it is hard for you to give away money. Similarly, people have emotional bank accounts that must be sufficiently full for them to give away- not money, but time, personal responsibility, and good behavior.

Adding regular “deposits” in your kid’s emotional bank account is smart investing in their future, so they will feel secure in “withdrawing” or giving back to you in the form of respect and proper obedience of your rules. A child who feels that he is running a “negative balance” will gain pleasure from making Mom or Dad get angry. In a backwards psychological way, the power the child yields over his parents in driving them to extreme frustration can fill an otherwise empty emotional bank account. It’s the classic case of the child who would rather get negative attention from their parents than no attention. Being yelled at is better than being ignored, as it fills his emotional account with a “bad currency” rather than leaving it “in the red”.

Here are some suggestions of “deposits” to bump up the balance in your child’s emotional bank account:

1) Give him a gift for no reason.
2) Place a note that says, “I love you” in her lunch bag.
3) Let him choose (from options you provide) the next family vacation.
4) Spend time alone with her at a location of her choice
5) Truly listen when she speaks to you
6) Believe in him, and his ideas.
7) Do a surprise favor for her.
8) Give him specific and truthful complements.

Making regular deposits in your children’s emotional bank accounts will yield dividends beyond any those of the highest-performing stock on the market!

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  1. This is a great article, and the analogy to financial investing really hit home as we just opened college savings accounts for our kids who are 3 and 5!

  2. Diane S. says:

    I like #1- give a gift for no reason- when I grew up in a strict sort of home, that was a no-no, but honestly, what’s the harm? Great idea:)

  3. #4 is definitely how I’ve bonded so strongly with my son, who is now 12. Since he was about 3, I go out with him every weekend for an hour or two, and he gets to choose (within reason!) where we will spend our time together. During these times he will discuss personal aspects of his life with me that he does not mention at all the rest of the week, so I feel fortunate that I implemented this early, and would encourage all of you to do the same!

  4. Diana H. says:

    I believe one of the best ways to invest in our children emotionally is to greet them in the morning and after a separation during the day as if we are so glad to see them. Smiling, hugging them, and saying, “Good morning, Sunshine!” can set the tone for a great day.

  5. A friend says:

    I have come across this concept before in a couple of family/parenting articles, and when I did a search in google, I found it was mentioned in Stephen Covey’s book “7 Habits of Highly Effective Families” – not sure if that was the first mention.
    While the few stories I have read on this site seem authentic, I would like to request that you cite your sources for your ideas, so that you maintain your “emotional bank account” with your readers!
    No hard feelings!

  6. Diana- short and sweet, yet profound! Thanks!

    Friend, thanks for referring me to that book, I’d never heard of it! The sources in this site come from my mind, a result of reading lots of books, attending many lectures, and sharing tips with friends. I actually first heard of this theory with regard to a mom taking the time to care for herself- and thus fill her own emotional account- so that she has what to give her family, rather than being the kind of mom who gives her all to her children, yet winds up as a disheveled dishrag with some emotionally bounced checks!

  7. Yvonne Witham says:

    I try to make sure I actually physically touch my children in a positive way several times each day. This can be a hug or a kiss, a stroke on their cheeks, or simply holding their hands while we walk along. They are kissed and hugged before bed and told they are loved (which they definitely are!) so each day is ended on a positive note.
    My own mother stopped kissing me when I was 10 and I was 20 before she kissed or hugged me again. I will never forget lying in bed waiting for her to come up to say goodnight and she never did again.

  8. Laurel Parker says:

    Hugs and kisses should not stop even when the child is a hulking teenager who seems to avoid you. I give my sons (near 6 ft) hugs and kisses all the time, and as long as it’s not in front of their friends, they are fine with it — in fact, as they get older, they seem to seek out hugs just as toddlers do. You never outgrow a hug from your mom!

  9. The emotional bank account concept/analogy is a wonderful one to keep in mind, in terms of relating to our children and to just about anyone with whom we have a relationship! Thanks for reminding me of it – I had read about it before in Stephen R. Covey’s “7 Habits” books.

    Again, thanks for reminding me of the metaphor, and for offering specific suggestions for how to invest in my children’s “EBA’s!” I needed the reminder, both for my kids’ sakes and my husband’s!
    Also, here’s a link to a page from Covey’s book “7 Habits of Highly Effective Families”, where he writes about the Emotional Bank Account: http://books.google.com/books?id=vxb5hV2i–oC&dq=stephen+covey+emotional+bank+account&pg=PA46&ots=zfSpKNmStj&sig=-QYJfNG8xsGDaKi34N2eStbSj3Y&prev=http://www.google.com/search%3Fhl%3Den%26lr%3D%26q%3Dstephen%2Bcovey%2Bemotional%2Bbank%2Baccount&sa=X&oi=print&ct=result&cd=1

  10. Lamonica says:

    I love the ideas! I always tell my daughter that I love her, as she does me! I do many of the ideas listed, and I always stress to her that I will ALWAYS love her, no matter what. When she does something that is inappropriate, I always make sure she understands that I love her, NOT the behavior.

  11. Caroline says:

    I must remember all of these. Every night, (that I put her to bed) after a story, I have a ritual that I have done all her life, which is, ‘Mummy loves you, Daddy loves you, we both love you forever’, punctuated by kisses. I started this with the idea that if my partner and I should ever, god forbid, split up, she would know that we both still loved her. I’ve always thought the leaving a note in the lunch box was a bit twee, and, dare I say it, American, but I should, as she does me notes like this all the time. I must get better at number 5!

  12. With my 9 year old son, I always like to ask his opinion on decisions we make as a family. If my husband and I don’t agree on his opinion then I explain why we don’t agree. He really seems to appreciate being involved with decisions.

  13. Great article. I try and add to the girls deposits daily. We spend time every night reading and I am the first up so I have morning time as well. The difficulty I have with the method is that I am an accountant by trade and so I try and balance the account each month and categorize all deposits and withdrawls. =)

  14. Susan N. Gallant says:

    It’s good to read these reminders as I get so busy trying to get stuff done that I get frustrated at times when they are in constant need of my attention. I haven’t had a real clean house in nearly 7 years since I was ending my pregnancy with our first daughter and I used to be the kind of person who cleaned everything from ceiling to floor. Reading the reminders to take time to happily greet them and do special things with them is what I need to see. We don’t have grandparents or other relatives to help us with them or with the house or running errands(as we don’t drive) so you can probably understand my dilems that I have just explained. I need to read things like this to keep me ballanced. Susan N. Gallant in Lewiston, Maine

  15. Geri Hagler says:

    Every day my youngest boy and I make sure that we have said “I Love you”. I’ll say, “Michael, have I told you I love you today?” He replies, “No”. I say, “I love you.” and we hug. Later he’ll do the same to me. “Mom, have I told you I love you today?” Before I go somewhere I blow him a kiss and he touches his cheek to indicate that he caught the kiss and then he blows a kiss to me and I catch it on my cheek. For my oldest boy, I might call his name loudly to make him think I’m ready to scold him and when he asks ‘what’ I tell him I love him and smile. We hug every day. They often hear me say that I thank God for letting me have them. I make sure I use polite words as please and thank you when asking them to do something. I purposefully treat them the way I would treat a friend. It is too easy to become complacent or impatient with your own children and I try not to be either. The exception is when my youngest is not cooperative or purposely acts stupid during school work. He knows this annoys me so I refuse to help him or allow him to play with his friends until he is willing to do the work. That’s the only time my impatience gets the better of me. They sure do know which buttons to push, they know I don’t always like what they do or how they act, but they also know I will always love them no matter what they do.

  16. Think about our relationship to our children as our being stewards to their growth and development:

    Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopedia, says this about stewardship:

    “In general stewardship is responsibility for taking good care of resources entrusted to one.”

    Following is a paraphrase what Wikipedia says about stewardship in organizations. It says:

    “In an organizational context, stewardship refers to a leader’s responsibility to properly utilize and develop the talents of people.”

    Think about this as it applies to our children. It means INVESTING in them, our time, talent and treasure. The rewards are immeasurable.

  17. I totally agree with you that our childrne’s emotional bank needs to be full and you have listed some very good practical ideas on how to do that. I’m wonderin if you ever read the book called The five love languages – I think thats what its called. Anyway, in the book he writes about 5 different love languages: touch, recieveing gifts, spending time together, words of affirmation, and doing things for them. the author says that every one has one PRIMARY love language, but can have more than one. If you want to show someone how much you love them, it is important (in his opinion) to do for them what shows them that you love them. If my love child’s love language isn’t touch and I am alwyas trying to hug them, they may not appreciate it as much as if I buy them a gift if recienving gifts is their love language. We usually “love” people in the way we want to be loved. We need to love our children in the way that shows love to them.

  18. Thanks Tom, for another dose of intellectual stimulation regarding investing in our children!

    Donna, I’ve never heard of that book, however I want to check it out now! That makes so much sense- you need to relate to children (really, to everyone!) in a manner the fits with their personality and emotional makeup!

    I want to start a thread about good parenting books that we can recommend to each other- thanks for reminding me:)

  19. Ellen, there is also a “5 Love Languages of Teenagers” that is very helpful. One point the author makes that Donna notes above is that we tend to give love in the way we want to receive it, and if our love language is not the same as our child’s, we can end up making things worse instead of better because then WE feel like they are not responding to us when we have gone to soooo much trouble to make them feel loved.

    You can even have the same love language and have it express itself differently. For instance, my husband wants to have things done for him, and making a special meal is particularly important. I also like to have things done for me, but cooking isn’t it – that just adds pounds when I eat the special meal! So if I am not hungry, or do not show proper appreciation for all his trouble, he doesn’t feel loved.

    As an adult, I can see how much this means to him and how he is really trying to show me love -but a child cannot make that distinction, and so it is all the more important to use THEIR love language or you will end up with a double “negative balance”!

    Great site – thanks for your insights!

  20. Jennifer says:

    All are good suggestions that we should do for our kiddos. The one that I try to work on the most is truely listen to my boys. How often has your child told you a story or something while you are cooking dinner. You listen but don’t stop cutting up the veggies. As you move to the stove you reply “Huh, that’s sounds good honey.” I am so guilty half listening to my boys instead of being in the moment. Mr. Rogers was admired and loved by many because he gave whoever he was speaking with his undevided attention. That is my goal with my boys that when they are talking to my I stop what I am doing and look at them as they are speaking. Remember moms in a few years you going to want them to share stories with you. If you give them the attention they deserve now they will communicate better with you when they are teenagers.

  21. Kristina says:

    I’m a big believer in fostering the child’s esteem with saying affirmations like, “you are an incredibly special child and I love you no matter what” every day. Since we all know kids are going to do things they shouldn’t, this helps assure them that they ARE special and your love isn’t conditional.

  22. I always leave the house with a ‘see you later, love you both’ you never know when its your last day.. my dad died when i was 13 always remember him going to work ..never came back.

    I let them know i still love them.. its their actions i do not.

    They have mentioned we do not give suprise gifts

  23. Catherine says:

    Thanks for your site and wisdom, much of it comes from the experience of mothering and wanting to nurture souls at large, ourselves included.

    I have started an initiative called Acorns to Oaks Friends United Network (A-20 FUN). I don’t have a site yet, but the idea is to grow together in wisdom, kindness, health, talent, friendship and community. I applaud your deeds of being on the web as well as each person’s efforts to grow in these areas in their families and communities. Sharing the wisdom is key. More and more, people are seeing the links between emotional well-being and health, wealth, competency and happiness.

    We need a lot more attention to this area in our country and around the world…Peace, Catherine

  24. All of these post are really helpful… I have heard of this before, and try daily to practice. But also fail on a daily bases.

    I just want to tell Geri Hagler that You my dear are an insperation to me. Having my children(4of them) home all day with me (homeschooling) I sometimes cater to the promblems.
    And to all other posts of ideas to fill our childern with Gods Love and light. Thank you for you post. I really needed to hear what everyone wrote.

    Thank you

  25. Natalie Valles says:

    once and a while, we have “mama–Diego day or mama–Sonora day”. It started a while ago when I noticed that one of us, me, was spending more time with my son than someone else…., my husband–and my husband was quite jealous that my son preferred me to him; even though he was only two or so and still connected to me at the hip. SO we came up with special time just for the two–and that eventually developped into mama–Diego time or whatever. I might initiate it, but sometimes my kids do. For example, today, I brought my son tyo work with me–shhh, “I’m teaching summer school and he enjoys “working on his work along with the kids.” SO anyways, our special time might be me cuddling in bed and telling him stories about when he was a baby or when he did something cute or funny, or I might take my daughter to do errands and leave the baby and bro at home with daddy. Of course, that means she gets to pick a gift, or I get her something or my own choice–doesn’t seem to matter to her.Point is, the children know that they matter as an individual, and are not always competing for our attention as part of a clan. I know what they like, I get chances to talk to them without having to make “blanket” statements. I think this is hugely improtant because in a time when parents are rushing around to work the grocer and so on–it gives everyone time to regroup and cherish the moments. And, most importantly, its time to teach our children how to become good parents. We get one shot to do this right!