The Message is the Medium

Using I-messages makes points with parents, too.
By Don Dinkmeyer, Jr.

STEP Parents

STEP parents know the value of using I-messages in communicating with their children. The I-message focuses on the parent instead of the child. It doesn't label or blame. When you use an I-message, you are simply describing how you feel about a particular behavior or problem situation. Hearing respectful words not only encourages positive behavior, but also teaches the child a valuable lesson in relating to others.

Parent Educators

Parent educators will find I-messages to be an effective resource for their parent education groups as well. For example, the leadership skills of universalizing and redirecting allow parents to learn from each other ways to behave with their own children. In one group, a parent said to another, "When I hear how you handled your child's power struggle, I felt encouraged because it was hard for me to not fight with my own child, too!"

Here are some important tips to keep in mind when teaching I-messages in your STEP programs:

  • I-messages should be preceded by reflective listening. Combine both to create the "two way street" of effective communication.
  • I-messages should never be used in anger, or with the expectation of "immediate compliance" from the child or teen.
  • Angry I-messages usually become you-messages, even if they use the recommended I-message format. Tone of voice and non-verbals are essential.

Try to find effective ways to incorporate I-messages into your parent groups. The summary statement, "I learned" (recommended in the STEP Leader's Resource Guide) is one kind of I-message. It allows parents to share their point of view for everyone's consideration and benefit.

I-messages are valuable and often overlooked forms of communication between parents, children, teens, and parent educators.