An easy way for parents to see the difference between ineffective and effective confrontation is to think sending either You-Messages or I-Messages. When we ask parents to examine the previously noted ineffective messages, they are surprised to discover that almost all begin with the word "You" or contain that word. All these messages are "You" - oriented:
You stop that.
You shouldn't do that.
Don't you ever...
If you don't stop that, then...
Why don't you do this?
You are naught.
You are acting like a baby.
You want attention.
Why don't you be good?
You should know better.
But when a parent simply tells a child how some unacceptable behavior is making the parent feel, the message generally turns out to be an I-Message.
"I don't feel like playing when I'm tired."
"I feel frustrated when I come to pick you up and you're not there."
"I sure get discouraged when I see the mess in the kitchen after I just cleaned it up."
Parents readily understand the difference between I-Messages and You-Messages, but its full significance is appreciated only after we return to the diagram of the communication process, first introduced to explain Active Listening. It helps parents appreciate the importance of I-Messages.
When a child's behavior is unacceptable to a parent because in some tangible way it interferes with the parent's enjoyment of life or her right to satisfy her own needs, the parent clearly "owns" the problem. She is upset, disappointed, tired, worried, harassed, burdened, etc., and to let the child know what is inside her, the parent must select a suitable code.
Stay tuned for tomorrow's post, which explains what a "suitable code" is and how to decipher them.