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Don't withdraw to negative balance - Make deposits to kids' emotional accounts

April 1, 2013

By Michael C. Blackwell, President/CEO

Author Willard Harley popularized the concept of emotional “bank accounts” in his excellent book for understanding relationships, His Needs, Her Needs.

His notion compared the emotional give-and-take between a man and a woman to “fund balances” in a checking account. If you withdraw more than you put in, your fund will “bounce” and you will be in trouble.

Each positive comment, compliment, supportive act, nurture, and surprise “just because I love you” gift to your spouse is a “deposit” in his or her emotional bank account.

When you do something stupid – lose your temper, forget a birthday or anniversary, or come home late without calling – you make a withdrawal from that emotional account. If you withdraw more than you deposit, you are in emotional deficit with your spouse, and you are in trouble!


It’s the same for children. Your kids and all the children you influence have an unconscious emotional account balance. When they have been flooded with positive deposits, they react to life from a perspective that says they are on top of things, they are winners, they can achieve.

When all they feel is the constant drain of emotional withdrawals, their perspective is dark and they begin to wonder how much more they can give – how much more will be required of them.

Children react according to these emotional account balances too. If you make more withdrawals from them than deposits in them, the children will “bounce.” Their words and actions will scream “insufficient emotional funds!”

Since people cannot operate for long with a negative emotional balance, children and adults alike will seek positive deposits – wherever they can find them.

You think your daughter’s clothing selection is atrocious? You withdraw emotional funds as she walks out the door by saying, “You look like a bum!” At school, she’ll find somebody to restore her fund balance by telling her she’s beautiful, he loves her outfit, and by the way, what is she doing Friday night?

You make a big, negative deal over your son’s bout of pimples or his wimpy mustache? There’s a drug dealer on the corner who doesn’t even see his rough skin and who tells your son he wishes he could grow a mustache as good.

“Pick up your toys, do your homework, do this, do that. Can’t you do anything right? These words are emotional “withdrawal” slips. Like withdrawing money to pay bills, some withdrawal words are necessary, although they can be more softly phrased.

But if you do not make enough deposits, your children will operate at an emotional deficit and that is never good. Hugs and sincere praise are huge deposits. On the other hand, it takes only a few harsh words and a deaf ear to drain the emotional bank.

How do you make deposits? Here are three deposit slips you can fill in as you communicate with your children:

Look your children in their eyes when you speak to them.

Put down the newspaper and shut off or mute the television. Turn and look.

Have you ever had people looking over your shoulder at someone else while they talked to you? It tells you their interest level in your conversation. Eye-to-eye contact shows that you are genuinely interested in the person you’re speaking with and you consider what they are saying important.

Use their names.

Their names are important. They affirm their unique identities, and say to them that you have something important specifically for them.

Our names are important to our self-worth.

Use the deposit word “because.”

I appreciate you because. . . I love you because. . . I admire you because . . .

Don’t simply give your children generic compliments or tell them, “you’re wonderful” without a basis for that observation.

Because they may have a low opinion of themselves at the time, if you give an ungrounded compliment, they say to themselves, “you don’t know me very well.”

If children only have withdrawals and no deposits in their emotional bank accounts, rebellion will come and they will find someone else to make deposits!

Take time today to make a deposit in your child’s account. It costs you nothing, but will pay million-dollar dividends.