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"I-statements" are an effective and caring way to talk with children. Some call them "I-messages." They usually consist of three parts.

  • You tell what happened,
  • You tell what you feel,
  • You explain why you feel that way, which often begins with "because".

An example of an I-statement is, When you come home later than you said, I worry, because I fear something happened to you.

Ask yourself how you feel if an authority says that to you, instead of, "Don't come home late!" The I-message draws your child into the parent's feelings, while the authoritative statement tends to push them off and on the defensive.

I-messages do not have to be in any order, though the third part is almost always third. So the I-message about being late could just as well be, "I worry when you come home later than you said, because I fear something happened to you."

We can easily fall into false I-messages, such as when the child is late, saying, you were late and I fear something could happen to you. This focuses on the child's action, and suggests anger and condemning. Say the I-messages above and reflect on how you feel different hearing, "You were late and I fear something could happen to you." Is this one example of the blame-game?

I-messages focus on you the parent and relate you to the child and the child's behavior. Rather than blaming, you are moving into the personal feelings involved with the child's behavior.

However the words come, you express your own feeling that is caused by a behavior of your child, or that is related to a behavior of your child. The I-message invites the child into your world of feelings and concerns, and invites the child to see his or her behavior within the framework of the parent's feelings and love for the child.

Practice using I-messages with your children to see what effects they have. At first the I-messages may seem strange and cause the child to be unsure how to respond, but as you continue using them, your child will likely respond in positive ways, and improve communication.

If you firmly command your child to stay away from streets, some curious children will want to explore what is forbidden. Is it better to use I-statements to express your concern? You may sit with the young child watching traffic, and ask the child about how big the cars are, how fast they are moving, and what happens when something runs out there. You may lead your child to respect dangers.

Here is a chance to try different ways to use I-messages:


After listening to the youngster a time or two, think of different fears or doubts that you may have about the child doing what she wants. Now think of how you can express your feelings with I-messages. Think about the importance of going with a friend, so you emphasize their watching for each other. The "buddy system" is an essential safeguard. When teens want to run or bike, suggest the values of being with trusted friends who watch each other. Perhaps jot down ideas to compare them and to look at them later.

Copyright © 2002 John F. Yeaman