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Building Positive Relationships

Don't we all yearn for connections with those we care about most?

Positive relationships among family members provide a closeness and feeling of love that make a happier family. While you are probably doing better than you think you are, we can all improve the positive feelings in our families.

Reviewing the principles of building positive relationships can help us do this. There are many ways to build positive relationships in a family, but we'd like to highlight three:

  • (a) quality and quantity time,
  • (b) continual effort,
  • (c) caring words and actions.

Next Steps:

  1. We invite you to begin by viewing the 7-minute video "You Can Do This-Building Positive Relationships."
  2. Take a look at The Big Picture section for an overview of the principles of building positive relationships.
  3. Then choose an activity for teaching positive behaviors to replace misbehaviors in the section labeled Things to Try.
  4. Finish with some inspiration from the There is Hope section.

Remember, you're not alone. You can do this.

You can do This--Building Positive Relationships from McKay School of Education on Vimeo.

It Begins With You

Positive relationships begin with you. Recognizing that we could and want to do better might put our hearts in the right place, but we have to act to really change. We might wish our spouse or children would change, but the best way to help them change is to behave as we would like them to behave. Help family members see and feel the importance you place on your relationships with them. Before long they will be responding to family relationships in positive ways.

The Relationship Bank

Think of a relationship as a bank account. Every interaction with a child or spouse is either a deposit or a withdrawal.

DEPOSITS are positive, caring, kind words and actions that make the person feel cared for and respected.

WITHDRAWALS are negative, cutting words and actions that hurt and make a person feel unloved and disrespected.

The key to a healthy account is to make many more deposits than withdrawals. Too many withdrawals will overdraft your account. It takes restraint to avoid overdrafts and continual effort to keep a healthy account balance.

Keeping Money in the Bank

Watch your account balance. Remember, children and youth recognize that adults are more powerful and can hurt them. What you think is a small withdrawal may be a big withdrawal to them.

The same is true for your spouse. Spousal withdrawals may be bigger than you realize.

If you make a withdrawal with a negative interaction, balance it out with a lot more positive interactions. When you do this, the balance in the relationship bank stays positive.

When Withdrawals Occur

You do not have to respond to negative behavior with more negative behavior. You can contribute to a positive relationship whether or not the other person is behaving appropriately. Of course, ultimately one person cannot make a relationship, so this kind of imbalance can't continue for long, but it can carry the account until the next deposit.

Disagreements and problems are inevitable in relationships, but if you take advantage of opportunities to make deposits, large and small, your accounts will stay healthy even when you have serious conflicts.

Benefits of Positive Relationships

The relationships you develop with your children will have lasting effects on them throughout their lives. Your children are likely to nurture their important relationships much like you have.

When relationships are strong your children will come to you with their problems and listen to your advice.

Time together as a family will be fun and long remembered.

Relationship Bank Family Activity


  • Box or bottle to make into a bank
  • Pennies


  1. Prepare by making a bank and decorating it and have 10-20 pennies ready.
  2. Teach your family about the relationship bank. You can use the slideshow in the Big Picture section or teach it in your own style. You might even decorate the bank together.
  3. At dinnertime, have family members tell about a deposit made to their account during the day and have the person put a penny into the bank. Take time to discuss as you go.

Note: You can teach this in two lessons like above or you could teach it at dinnertime. Just have the bank and pennies ready, teach about the relationship bank and do the activity.

Bedtime Routines

A mom describes a bed time experience with her children: "One thing I started a couple of years ago, I'm not exactly sure how it came about, but to get my kids to go to bed at night, we would do this routine where we go through highs and lows for the day, what were the good parts that went on during the day they tell me what they are doing and then they go straight off to bed but also, I talk with them and say 'Who do I love?' and they tell me it's them, 'Do I just love you for today or forever?' and they say 'forever.' And I say 'Who are the luckiest mom and dad?' and they say 'You are.' At the very end I talk about how they are going to go out and do wonderful things in the world."

Relationship Builders

Make a list of things that build relationships that only take:

  • 30 seconds or less
  • 1 minute
  • 5 minutes
  • Longer

Encourage everyone to start doing more of the things on the list.

Some examples from other parents: (picture or pictures)

"You know, we may be tempted to think that we don't have time, but the meaningful things can be things that happen in less than a minute. That special hug. That stepping up to someone and just putting your hand on their shoulder."

"I like to write little notes to the kids... and hide it somewhere, like under their pillow. And I say something like 'I think I lost my cell phone. I think I left it under your pillow.' They go and find the note."

"Something about my kids... they think it is so funny when they teach me something... it might be silly but my kids just taught me how to text a while ago and they are so thrilled. Enrico, my oldest son says, 'Isn't that funny that dad knows how to text?' They think it's funny that they can text me and I text them back... and, it gives just a little bit more of a bonding, they're so thrilled when I ask them something that I don't know and they teach it to me, they feel so important. And for them, it's just a very happy moment."

"One thing I need to do more often is just stopping my busyness of the day and listening. My son just recently got Pokemon cards and he wants to explain to me every character and what they do and I'm like 'In a minute, in a minute.' It's more about stopping for that moment so he can say something that is important in his life. If I stop doing what I'm doing and actually stop for that moment and give them my full attention, that's really powerful. It's just five minutes."

Things to Consider (picture or pictures)

Insights from parents

"So many times when you think a lack of a good relationship is another person's fault, and we can't control what another person does, but we can control what we do, and we can make that decision in our mind, and more importantly in our heart, that we're going to make the relationship important." "But, you walk in the house and you say 'Hi, I'm home' and everybody scatters. Then you know you've got problems in your relationships. And so whenever that happened the very first thing I would do is keep track of the ratio of my positive to negative interactions with my children."

"Don't we want our children to feel that there is something, someone, in their life who is so interested in them and so interested in their success that they are willing to sacrifice everything for them." "And kids with whom you have a good, strong, positive, nurturing relationship, they'll be willing to take a few risks and try some things, and maybe they won't hit the mark every single time, but they'll stretch, and they'll try harder, and they'll take a risk." "Some children have to develop trust, some children have to develop confidence and some children just need to know that there are people that are there for them, rooting for them. That all has to do with relationships."

"I find a lot of times with people, as you give them that time, that quiet time, they will begin to open up, they will begin to share with you. Children are the same way; they need that quiet time, they need that personal one on one time to be able to share with you what's really going on at a deeper level. Any child can say, "Oh, I had a great day at school," but as you give them more time to interact, and more quiet time, they can begin to open up and share more with you."

A Positive Relationship Is Possible

One Dad's Advice

You sometimes just have to choose to have a positive relationship, a father of grown children told us recently. Put away the baggage and just say I want it to be different so I'm going to make it different. We all make mistakes. You are not alone. We offend or hurt our children's feelings while trying to do the best we can. We need to forgive ourselves, maybe even ask our children to forgive us and tell them you are going to try to do better. If we look at ourselves and our past a little more kindly it will help us be more positive.


It starts with you, spend time, lots of time, planned and unplanned time. Remember the idea of a relationship bank. Be caring in your words and actions. It will go a long way in creating the happy, nurturing home your whole family would love to have. Hang in there, continual effort and commitment to making family relationships a priority will enrich our family life.

Children Learn What They Live

- Dorothy Law Neite   
If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.   
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.   
If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.   
If a child learns to feel shame, he learns to feel guilty.   
If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.   
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence.   
If a child lives with praise, he learns to appreciate.   
If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.   
If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith.   
If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.   
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, he learns to find love in the world.

A Great Story About A Teenager's Homecoming

"Throughout Jack's early life, he and his father had many serious arguments. One day, when Jack was seventeen, they had a particularly violent quarrel. Jack said to his father, 'This is the straw that breaks the camel's back. I'm leaving home, and I will never return!' So declaring, he went to his room and packed a bag. His mother begged him to stay, but he was too angry to listen. He left her crying at the doorway.

"Leaving the yard, Jack was about to pass through the gate when he heard his father call to him: 'Jack, I know that a large share of the blame for your leaving rests with me. For this I am truly sorry. I want you to know that if you should ever wish to return home, you'll always be welcome. And I'll try to be a better father to you. I want you to know that I'll always love you.' Jack said nothing, but went to the bus station and bought a ticket to a distant point. As he sat in the bus watching the miles go by, he thought about the words of his father. He realized how much love it had required for his father to do what he had done. Dad had apologized. He had invited him back and had left the words ringing in the summer air, 'I love you.'

"It was then that Jack understood that the next move was up to him. He knew that the only way he could ever find peace with himself was to demonstrate to his father the same kind of maturity, goodness, and love that Dad had shown toward him. Jack got off the bus, bought a return ticket to home, and went back.

"He arrived shortly after midnight, entered the house, and turned on the light. There in the rocking chair sat his father, his head bowed. As the father looked up and saw Jack, he rose from the chair, and they rushed into each other's arms. Jack often said, 'Those last years that I was home were among the happiest of my life.'

"Here was a boy who overnight became a man. Here was a father who, suppressing passion and bridling pride, reached out to rescue his son before he became one of that vast lost battalion resulting from fractured families and shattered homes. Love was the binding band, the healing balm. Love—so often felt, so seldom expressed." - Thomas S. Monson, "Heavenly Homes, Forever Families," Ensign, Oct. 1991, 2.