3 nice things

“Say three nice things to your sister, Olivia!”

I heard this phrase from my parents more times than I want to admit. Why? Because every time we criticized a sibling, our parents made us pay three compliments to make up for it. The begrudging compliments usually came out monotone and consisted of really exciting compliments such as:

“You’re nice.”

“You’re smart.”

“You’re funny.”

This was one of my mom’s conference take-aways. Oh, the dreaded mommy conferences. She would go away for the weekend and come home all amped up about family life. The older we got, the more we rolled our eyes at the charts, quizzes, and corny ideas that we were forced to implement from then until what felt like eternity.

She told us that for every “put-down” a person needs three “put-ups” to make up for it. This philosophy aligns with the book by psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, Positivity: Top-Noch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life. I haven’t read the book (yet) but it makes a lot of sense to me.

I remember my mom describing the theory as if each person has a well-being bank. Every time someone says something mean to us it subtracts 3 points from our bank.  When someone says something nice, it helps build that back up. Each positive, though, only added one point. Hence the “three nice things rule.”

Despite all the moaning and groaning, this was one of the few “mommy conference rules” that stuck around for more than a few weeks. We thought we were being cunning by keeping our compliments as bland and obvious as possible, but they were compliments nonetheless. And as much as we hated it, I think it really made a difference.

Looking back at my youth, one of my few regrets is not being nicer to my sisters. I recently took a personality test and it revealed that I’m an ENFJ on the Meyer’s Briggs Personality test. They sum my personality up in a sentence as “the benevolent pedagogue of the universe.” I looked up pedagogue and this is what it said:

Pedagogue-teacher, esp. a strict or pedantic one.”

As a kid, this equated to a bossy girl who wanted to run the show. Boo. This led to a lot of hurtful things being said to my sisters so I could get my way. 🙁 I wish I had never said hurtful things, but when I did I’m just so thankful that I had to pay a few compliments into their banks.

I’m no psychologist, but focusing on a person’s positive characteristics–even when you don’t feel like it–does something in your brain. Something great. I would totally suggest you and your family try the 3-nice-things rule, and as much as you and your kids may hate it in the moment, you will see fruit immediately! And even if you don’t, you will know that under the surface it’s making a lasting impact.

I still try to use this rule in my life, although now it’s mostly in my thoughts rather than word. My attitude, perspective and demeanor have a hard time not changing when I replace my negative thoughts with positive ones! In the future, my goal is to ALWAYS enforce the 3-nice-things rule with our kids (as soon as they can talk) and hold myself to that same standard.

(Luckily, my sisters and I still have great relationships with one another.)

Have a happy, positive-filled day mommies!

Could you be more positive? How do you encourage your kids make up for hurtful things they say or do?


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One Response to 3 nice things

  1. Amanda November 14, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    I love this. Really, really love this. Think I’m going to have to read that book, especially now that they are alllll talking. Sometimes they can say some mean things and it drives me crazy….and the little girls are just copying off their older brothers. I need something “positive” for them to copycat.

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