Dec 22, 2009

What Can Effective I-Messages Do?


I-Messages can produce startling outcomes. Parents frequently report that their children express surprise on learning how their parents really feel. They tell their parents:

"I didn't know I was bugging you so much."
"I didn't know it really upset you."
"Why didn't you tell me how you felt before?"
"You really have strong feelings about this, don't you?"

Children, not unlike adults, often don't know how their behavior affects others. In the pursuit of their own goals they are often totally unaware of the impact their behavior might have. Once they are told, they usually want to be more considerate. Thoughtlessness frequently turns into thoughtfulness, once a child understands the impact of his behavior on others.

Mrs. H reported an incident during their family vacation. Their small children had been very loud and boisterous in the back of the minivan. Mrs. H. and her husband had been resentfully enduring the racket, but finally Mr. H. could stand no more. He braked the car abruptly, pulled off the road and announced, "I just can't stand all this noise and jumping around in the back. I want to enjoy my vacation and I want to have fun when I'm driving. But, damn it, when there is noise back there, I get nervous and I hate to drive. I feel I have a right to enjoy this vacation, too."

The kids were startled by this pronouncement and said so. They hadn't realized that their carrying-on way back in the minivan was in any way distressing their father. They apparently thought their father could take it. Mrs. H. reported that after this incident, the children were much more considerate and drastically reduced their horseplay.

*Excerpt from Dr. Gordon's P.E.T. book

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