Open Ended Questions: The Future

Our goal this month is to improve our skills at asking open ended questions, so that we can get to know one another over time.  This week we are getting to know each other's hopes for the future.  Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What do you want your life to be like in, say, three years from now?
  • How do you see your work changing in the future?
  • How do you feel about our physical home? Any architectural changes you’d like to make?
  • What kind of person do you think our child(rent) will become? Any fears? Any hopes?
  • What are your biggest worries about the future?
  • What goals do you have for our family?
  • What goals do you have just for yourself right now?
  • Where would you like to travel? 
  • What adventures would you like to have before you die?

Check out the Gottman Card Decks app for more.

Or improve your skills at a Bringing Baby Home class, including a new class posted for October 13-14, 2018.  

Open Ended Questions: The Present

Our goal this month is to improve our skills at asking open ended questions, so that we can get to know one another over time.  This week we are getting to know each other's daily experience in the present.  Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Is our child like anyone in your family? Who?
  • How do you think we could have more fun in our life?
  • Who are your best allies and close friends right now? How have they or you changed?
  • How have your friendships changed lately? Have you grown closer to some friends? More distant from others?
  • Who in your life is most stressful for you? Why?
  • What do you need right now in a friend?
  • What things are missing in your life?
  • Have your goals in life changed recently?
  • What are some of your life dreams now?
  • What would you change about our finances right now?
  • What kind of year has this been for you? Tell me the story of your proudest moment.
  • How do you feel about your family right now? Have these feelings changed lately?
  • How do you feel about work right now?
  • How are you feeling about being a mother/father?
  • What do you find exciting in life right now?
  • What is one way you would like to change?  

Check out the Gottman Card Decks app for more.

Or improve your skills at a Bringing Baby Home class.  (Now available: October 13-14, 2018 class in San Jose, CA)

Open Ended Questions: The past

Our goal this month is to improve our skills at asking open ended questions, so that we can get to know one another over time.  This week we are getting to know each other's past.  Here are some questions to get you started:

  • How would you compare yourself as a mother/father to your own mother/father?
  • How have you changed in the last year?
  • What legacy do you want our family to take from your family? From your culture? 
  • What are some unfulfilled things in your life?
  • How has your outlook in life changed in the past 2 years?
  • What were the highlights and low-lights of your adolescence?
  • If you could re-do any decade of your life, which decade would you choose and why?  
  • How have you changed as a daughter or son?  
  • How have you changed as a brother or sister?  
  • What relatives have you felt closest to and why?  
  • Who has been the most difficult person in your life (other than a partner or spouse) and why?  
  • Who was your childhood hero or heroine and why?  

Check out the Gottman Card Decks app for more.

Or improve your skills at a Bringing Baby Home class.  

Are we partners? Or enemies?

When we need something, it is easy to look at our partner as the enemy instead of as a teammate.  How can we work together as one team fighting against the issues that come up this week?  How can we give our partner the benefit of the doubt?  How can we look for ways to find compromise when our needs are in conflict?  How can we use conflict as an opportunity to better understand who we are and what we need?  Are there ways that we can take responsibility for our part of the problem?  In the Bringing Baby Home curriculum, John Gottman says that these questions can  reduce our partner's potential defensiveness because we are kicking the problem around together.  We are working together as a team instead of against one another. 

Gentle start-up: a key to expressing needs respectfully

According to the Gottmans' research, the way a conversation starts is likely the way that it will end.  So if we start with criticism or contempt, we are likely to end with defensiveness or stonewalling.  But if we start gently, we are more likely to have a productive conversation.  Some keys to a gentle start-up include:  expressing appreciation; making statements that start with "I", such as "I'm upset" or "I'm angry"; describing the facts of the situation; and clearly describing what we need.  Check out this video from Julie Gottman to hear more.  

Appreciation: a key to being heard

According to Dr. Gottman’s research, the masters of relationship had 20 times more positive interactions than negative interactions during everyday interactions, and five times more positive than negative interactions during times of conflict.  Our ratio of positive to negative interactions is strong when our relationships are full of fondness, affection, gratitude and humor.  When we create rituals that build gratitude and affection for one another, we are putting our relationship in what Dr. Gottman calls “the positive perspective”. When our relationships are in the positive perspective, we are more able to hear our partner’s needs. 

When expressing our needs, it can be helpful to include what we appreciate and what we admire about the other person. When we express that, we can help our partner be able to hear us.  

When we are deeply entrenched in the negative perspective, or when our needs have been building up, it can be hard to stop and express appreciation. In his book Love and Respect, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs describes this pattern as “the crazy cycle.” He says that when a man feels disrespected, he responds without love. When a woman feels unloved, she responds without respect.  He says that the one who considers him/herself more mature should be the one who takes the first step towards expressing love and respect. 


Expressing needs: calm down first


I wanted to start our expressing needs challenge with a quick reminder that it’s really hard to think clearly or have empathy for our families when we are physically upset (Dr. Gottman calls it “flooded”). If we notice that our heart rates are high and our bodies are tense,  we may need to start off by taking a good break. What is the nature of a good break? It is at least 20 minutes long. It is thinking about something else besides the argument. By the time the break is over, our bodies are physically relaxed, and our hearts and minds are calm.  

Obstacles to filling emotional bank accounts: distraction

As adults, many conflicts begin when our needs go unmet. Maybe we express our need when our partner is busy doing something else. Or perhaps we feel scared that our partner won't be willing or able to meet our need, so we don't express it or we use hints to "test the waters." A key strategy of the Gottman Bringing Baby Home program is to express our needs clearly and regularly so that they don't build up or escape our mouths as criticism or contempt.  (Dr. Gottman calls this a negative bid - expressing our bid, or request, in a negative way).

Interestingly, babies have similar strategies that they use when their bids are not met.  Check out the videos below to see how babies act when they make a bid (express a need) and their parent does not respond.   

So there are 3 things to consider here:  

  • to slow down and become more aware of the ways that our partners and our babies express their needs,
  • to express our own needs clearly and with appreciation,
  • and to make an effort to turn off our cell phones when we are spending time with those that we love so that we can be present in the moment.  

See also:  The dangers of distracted parenting

Baby Cues

This month we are exploring how to build our family’s emotional bank account by responding to each other’s needs. We are working to become more aware of how we each express our needs (bids). This week we are exploring the ways that infants and toddlers express their needs. We know that in the early stages of language development, parents have to be the detective to figure out what the cries, sounds, and movements mean. Over time, babies figure out that they can use their cries, sounds, and movements to have an impact on the people in their world. “They don’t realize that these sounds and actions have any meaning until their caregivers consistently respond to them. In this way, children gradually learn that the messages they send without words have an effect on other people, and they start to send these messages intentionally.” ( So as we respond to our children’s sounds, gestures, facial expressions, and movements, we are filling their emotional bank accounts, teaching them that the world is a safe place, and also laying the foundation for future communication development.


Here are some additional resources to help us to improve our skills at reading our children’s cues:

Newborn Cues (YouTube video) 

Understanding Your Baby's Cues (YouTube video)

Baby Cues that Say "I'm Tired" (article with video)

Tired Signs in Infants and Toddlers (article with video)


The Empathy Reflex

As we work together to read each other‘s words and body language to figure out each other‘s needs, it can be useful to think about what Dr. John Medina calls the empathy reflex. In his book Brain Rules for Baby, he describes what he calls the empathy reflex. The empathy reflex is a habit that we can build to identify how the other person feels and make a guess about why they might feel that way. This can help us to bridge the gap between the behaviors that we can see in the other person and the intentions that we can’t see. According to Dr. Medina, this gap is one of the most common causes of conflict in relationships. We know our own intentions but we don’t always know the intentions of others.


So the next time you find yourself in an emotional situation, try these two steps: 1)  use the other person’s body language to guess (out loud) how you think they are feeling, and 2) make a statement about why they might be feeling that way. 


 Try it and let me know how it goes!  

Source: http://brain-rules-for-baby-practical-tips...

Step 2: Respond to bids mindfully

The next step in this challenge is to slow down, breathe, recognize bids, and RESPOND MINDFULLY.

In the Bringing Baby Home class, Dr. Gottman talks about the importance of recognizing bids and responding to them intentionally.  The motto of the workshop is "small things often."  

When we notice that our partner or our child is making a bid for connection, we have several ways that we can respond.

1.  We can turn towards. This means that we respond to their request for connection by connecting with them.  If our partner asks "Do we have any more laundry detergent?" we respond by putting some laundry detergent in the cart or add it to the shopping list.  If our baby is crying for attention, we respond by looking at them, talking or singing to them, and maybe by picking them up.  If the bid was that the person looked at us, we might simply smile at them.  Turning towards adds deposits to our emotional bank account.  

2.  We can turn away. This means that the bid is ignored.  Maybe we are too busy with our work at the moment.  Maybe we are focused on something else or on "automatic pilot."  Maybe we are busy on our phone. Usually we aren't intentionally being mean, but we are deep in thought or preoccupied with something else.  Turning away has a negative effect on our relationship's emotional bank account. It is a withdrawal from our emotional bank account. 

3.  We can turn against. This means that the other person responds to the bid in a negative way.  The response might be critical or contemptuous.  It is being intentionally negative to the other person.  Turning against is a withdrawal from our emotional bank account. It leads to increased conflict and puts emotional distance between you. 

In order to put deposits into our emotional bank account, we need to be mindful.  We need to slow down and breathe.  We need to recognize the other person's bid, and we need to be intentional to make the other person to feel heard and respected and important.  "Mindful responses increase the positive perspective in the relationship, and over time, increase relationship satisfaction... These small acts will add points to your emotional bank account (deposits) and over time will have a significant impact on your relationship" (Bringing Baby Home workbook, p. 77).

For more information:


Step 1: Recognizing bids

The first step in this challenge is to slow down, breathe, and then RECOGNIZE BIDS.

As I mentioned in this month's newsletter, a bid is defined as the way that a person expresses what they need at the moment.  

Some examples of bids that our partner might make include:
- A bid for our attention, such as calling our name or saying "Look at this"
- A bid for conversation: "How was your day today?"
- A bid for relief: "I'm so tired. Could you take care of the baby for a while so that I can take a nap?"
- A bid for humor: "I just heard a new joke"
- A bid for affection: "Can I have a hug?"
- A bid for sex: "You are really turning me on right now"
- A bid for dreaming: "What would you like your life to be like in 10 years?"
- A bid for play: Playfully tickling, dancing, wrestling, or a gentle bump or shove.
- A bid for excitement: "At the party the other day, I was talking to a neighbor about a cool trip that would be awesome to take together."
- A bid for emotional support or empathy: "I feel sad" or "I had a hard day at work today"
- A bid for discussing shared meaning, goals, or purpose in life: "What is the most important legacy that you want to give to the baby?"

Some examples of bids that our child might make include:
- A bid for our attention, such as making sounds or gestures or crying for attention
- A bid to show us something, such as pointing or looking at the object and then looking at us
- A bid for a nap: a yawn; slow motion blinks; drowsiness; hyperactivity; staring off into space; rubbing eyes, ears or hair; losing interest in play; interest in sucking
- A bid for laughter: starting a game of peekaboo
- A bid for affection: rubbing up against us or giving a hug or kiss
- A bid for play: Playfully tickling, dancing, wrestling, or a gentle bump or shove.
- A bid for excitement: initiating an exciting game
- A bid for emotional support or empathy: a pouty face or cry

Next Monday we will look at different ways that we respond to other people's bids.  

More resources:

Helping kids to slow down and breathe...

Let's take a look at different ways that we can slow down with our kids to savor the moment together.

  • I recently discovered a book called "Breathe Like a Bear" by Kira Willey.  It is full of ideas for ways to teach little ones to breathe!  Kira is also a songwriter.  Check out her music on your favorite music player!  I've been enjoying "Bunny Breath" and others!  A few of her strategies include:
    • Pretending that we are drinking hot chocolate, taking sips and saying a long "mmmm" or slowly blowing it to cool it down.
    • Pretending that we are hibernating bears taking long, slow, sleepy breaths.  
  •  David Kisor also has some great songs like "Breathe" and "Smell the Flower, Blow the Candle Out"
  • I like to teach little ones to breathe by blowing bubbles and trying to see how big we can blow them!  

The "Slow down and breathe" challenge part 3: The benefits

When we do manage to slow down and have dedicated time to just breathe and observe our children, we may find that we can be intentional to think about what we enjoy, we can savor the moments as children grow so quickly, and we might even learn something new about the way that our children grow.

For example:  once upon a time there was a baby who was struggling to sleep. His mama was so tired and frustrated, because no matter what she did, he woke up after just a 30-40 minute nap. But she trusted her baby and new that there must be a reason why he kept waking up. One day, she decided that even though she was so very tired, she would stay up and watch her son sleep. She watched and waited to see if there was a clue about what was waking him up. She noticed that when he started to get into a lighter sleep, his arms flailed out and he startled himself awake. It seemed that his baby reflexes made him feel like he was falling, since he was sleeping on his back.  He startled and woke himself up! This mama started to swaddle her baby for his naps, and he started to sleep better!  When this mama was able to slow down and breathe, she noticed what was going on, and she was able to respond to her baby appropriately. 

Slowing down

As I mentioned in my newsletter this week, the challenge this month is to slow down and breathe. 

If you watch the Gottman Institute's "What's Baby Saying?" video, Dr. Gottman explains that "it is important to realize that babies operate on a much, much slower time scale than adults.  You may remember when you were a child, a summer seemed to last forever. Now as you get older, summers go by very, very quickly.  Because the world is so much slower for children, it takes time for a baby to react to things. Newborns, for example, will imitate you, but it's a great deal of effort for them to do this. It will take them 10-40 seconds before that imitation really happens. But as busy adults, we are often out of the room doing ten other things by the time the baby has gotten around to imitating us. So one of the first things you have to do is slow way, way down. It will add a lot to your life if you can turn off the television, not answer the phone, and really spend a lot of time in sustained play with your baby, learning how to read your baby's signals. Every baby is different, so you need to get to know your baby as an individual. You don't have to devote 95% of your time to playing with your baby. Just be fully present and engaged when you are playing with your baby. That's another thing that's special about babies. They are fully engaged in the moment!"

Speaking of newborns imitating, I love this video of a newborn imitating his dad! 

The Four Horsemen

As May comes to an end, we wrap up our series on recognizing the "Four Horsemen" that Gottman has found predict divorce, and to use their antidotes.  I'm hoping that these last four months have helped you to be aware of the behaviors that predict divorce, and to know how you can make different choices to build your positive, playful parenting team!  

For more help in this area, join us for a Bringing Baby Home class or schedule a 1-on-1 consultation with Lara!  

For one last summary, check out this article from the Gottman Institute.  

Come back tomorrow to to the 5:1 Ratio Blog for the June "Slow Down and Breathe" Challenge!  

Fighting in front of the kids

When is it appropriate to fight in front of the kids?  In John Medina's book Brain Rules (Updated and Expanded), he talks about "One of the greatest predictors of performance in school turns out to be the emotional stability of the home... Given that stress can powerfully affect learning, one might predict that children living in high-anxiety households would not perform as well academically as kids living in more nurturing households. That is exactly what studies show. Marital stress at home can negatively affect academic performance in almost every way measurable, and at nearly any age... Careful subsequent investigations showed that it was the presence of overt conflict, not divorce, that predicted grade failure.” (Brain Rule #4: Stressed Brains Don't Learn the Same Way, emphasis mine).

Therefore, we can consider ways to reduce how much we fight in front of the children, and how we teach them conflict management strategies.  Some ideas:

  • Having a regular time when we bring up conflicts when the children are out of earshot, so that conflicts don't build up over time.
  • Looking for regular ways to express fondness and affection for one another, so that we can maintain the positive perspective.
  • Taking breaks to calm down so that problems don't escalate.
  • Focusing on keeping mealtimes positive, so that kids develop a positive association with eating.

If you think a certain topic may be upsetting to you or your partner, try to avoid talking about it in front of the kids. Wait to bring it up when you are alone.Starting at around age 4, we can have small disagreements in front of the children, but it is important that they see us physically make up at the end.  

Check out this article for more information.  

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