parenting: using an “I” message

Before having Caleb, I had a list of things I would “never do” when I became a mother. I would never let him sleep in our bed, give him dessert before dinner, let him cry for 45 minutes… And well, I had no idea. Before having a kid, I was the perfect mother! And now…now, I do my best. And that is faaaarrrr from perfect. But there are a few things I hope I don’t go back on (granted, I know I will make mistakes sometimes). I want him to feel loved, respected, and valued. I will do my darnedest to never shame him or make him feel small.

I really enjoy this by Dr. Michael Popkin called “Active Parenting Now.” I highly recommend this book for many reasons. One big reason is that it advocates for the parent’s authority, but teaches how to do that while still respecting your child. Plus, it works!

I’ll do a few posts with concepts from this book. This one is on using “I” messages. {By the way, this works in other relationships, too!}

It’s appropriate to use an “I” message when a polite request has failed to change behavior in your child (or spouse).

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Name the behavior or situation you want changed. It’s important to avoid shaming your child. Make sure you separate the “deed from the doer” (or the “sin from the sinner”). Example: “I have a problem with your leaving dirty dishes on the coffee table.”
  2. Say how you feel about the situation. Without raising your voice this lets your child know that the problem is serious to you. Usually anger is a secondary emotion and underneath it is fear, hurt or helplessness. Try to identify the primary emotion underneath anger…it is less threating. Example: “I feel taken advantage of…”
  3. State your reason. A simple explanation can go a long way. Example: “…because I have to spend time and energy cleaning up after you.”
  4. Say what you want done. You’ve already made a polite request. Since that failed you must let your child know exactly what you want done. Example: “I would like you to bring your dirty dishes to the kitchen and put them in the dishwasher when you leave the living room.”

Making “I” messages stronger:

  1. Get agreement. Example: “I have problem with…Will you do that?”
  2. Establish a time frame. Example: “…when you are finished.”

If this doesn’t work, logical consequences and disciplining are necessary. Stay tuned for tips on my next post!

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