The Emotional Bank Account

What’s an Emotional Bank Account?

Imagine your emotions are all inside of a bank account. When you give your daughter a hug, it makes a deposit into her emotional bank account. When you hold a boundary with her, it’s like making a withdrawal. As long as you keep putting enough positive things into the account, you can have firm rules and still “stay in the black” so to speak.

Now imagine that your teenager is being disrespectful all the time. She’s breaking curfew, sneaking out, and shouting at her siblings. It seems like she isn’t even giving you a chance to make a positive emotional deposit, and suddenly your relationship has a “negative balance.” How on earth do you show her love and care when she seems to be doing everything she can to push you away and make you angry?

Making Deposits in the Emotional Bank Account

Here are some recommended ways to “make a deposit” with your teen, even when they are pushing you away.

  1. Acts of kindness- the last thing you want to do is be sweet to a cranky teenager, and often they respond as if they don’t care. No matter how they react- this is a deposit!
  2. Small Gifts- make it something personal. Just buying something shiny is not the answer, it needs to matter to them!
  3. Physical Touch- You may be surprised that even in their most upset moments, some teenagers would appreciate physical touch. Playing with their hair, giving them a hug, or just sitting next to them with your arms touching can defuse tension and build rapport.
  4. Compliments- put aside how frustrated you are with them and give them an honest compliment. Don’t be fake! Even if it means saying something like “I’m still not happy with you for how you treated your sister, but I want you to know I’m proud of your A on that chemistry exam.” They don’t have to be perfect to have your support. Make sure they remember that even during tough times.
  5. Gratitude & Love- Sometimes teenagers can convince themselves that having a fight means they are unloved or unwanted. Make sure they know how you feel.

But, How Will They Learn?

At this point, many parents are frustrated and say, “If I’m nice after they break a rule, how on earth with they learn? Isn’t that letting them walk all over me?” If that’s what you’re thinking here are a few principles that may help you grasp WHY these positive “emotional bank deposits” work:

  1. It’s not about you- Although you feel disrespected, remember that 9 times out of 10 it is not about you! Don’t take it personally
  2. A consequence is not a feeling- if you have punishments that fit the crime, there is no need to add negative emotions and tensions to the mix. Take their car keys, turn off the wifi, do whatever the consequence is and then let it go! Remembering this principle will help your child take accountability for themselves, and lets you go back to making “positive deposits” right away!
  3. Ask questions- The consequence is not the end of the story. Always make sure you figure out where they were coming from. Even if you don’t agree with their reasoning, focus on the feelings! Showing that you care enough to ask is adding to the emotional bank account, as well.

By following these guidelines and remembering to “stay in the black” with your kids, your relationships will get deeper! It’s hard work, but you can create strong and healthy connections with your kids, and things will get better.

By Jessica Jones, Residential Director at the Hobble Creek Campus of New Haven Residential Treatment Center