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The Miraculous I - Statement

December 2015

There are many better alternatives to controlling your child than by use of harsh discipline.  These alternatives have the advantage that they encourage children to change behaviors that are unacceptable without making them feel put-down and hurt.  One such alternative is the miraculous I-statement.  Why do I refer to the I-statement as miraculous?  Because once you begin to use it as one of the tools in your parenting tool box, your job as a parent will become so much easier that it will seem like a miracle. 

An I-statement is a non-blaming, non-critical message that tells your child what you are experiencing in response to an unacceptable behaviors.  Examples of I-statements are: “When the TV is on so loud, I can’t carry on a conversation with your mother,”   or “When you don’t call me when you are going to be late, I worry.”

These I-statements offer alternatives to the blaming and coercive You-statements, which often contain criticisms and judgments.  You-statements are the verbal expressions of adults who see children as misbehaving and want to stop the misbehavior with threats and reprimands.  Examples of You-statements which are blaming are: “You are driving me crazy,” and “ You ought to know better than to do that!”

I-statements allow you to keep the ownership of the problem, which means you are in a strong position right from the start.   “I am having a problem with your behavior.”  When you own that the problem is yours, you are more likely to make your child want to modify his behavior out of consideration for you.   He will be more willing to respond to you in a helpful manner and to modify his behavior on his own.

On the other hand, You-statements make it likely that your child will become defensive and resist any change at all.  Because they contain blame and are often put downs, when you use them they will be damaging to your child’s self-esteem.  Furthermore, he is likely to retaliate by sending out You-statements of his own back at you,  which will then escalate the situation into a verbal battle that brings hurt feelings, tears, and  threats of punishment. 

It often seems easier to express ourselves in You-messages.  Requiring no self-awareness, they roll readily off the tongue, shifting responsibility for your feelings from yourself to your child.  They are an easy, impulsive way to get back at him for causing you a problem.   The problem is, You-statements also communicate a lack of respect for him and his needs. 

How do you actually make I-statements?  Start by identifying how you feel, whether it is mad, sad, frustrated, etc.  Say “I feel: _________,” followed by the reason you feel that way or what happened that led you to those feelings: “when_________.”  Next, identify the reason your child’s actions led to those feelings : “because___________.”   And, last, let him know what you want instead:  “I would like:______.”  For example, “When you don’t come home when you say you will, I worry because I think something might have happened to you.  I would like you to phone me when you know you are going to be late.” 


With the use of I-statements, you are no longer coercing  and blaming your child. By expressing how you feel, you will not be making judgments about him when you disagree.  Instead, you will be listening to what you are feeling while taking responsibility for your own inner condition. You will be assuming responsibility for your feelings by openly sharing this assessment of them with your child.  At the same time, you will be promoting his desire to do the right thing and change.  What better miracle could there be than that?

For more information on “I-statements” see Teaching Children Self-discipline” by T. Gordon, Ph.D.


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