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Child Development

Communication - Skills

Express feelings and comments in the form of "I" messages.

I feel________, when_________, because________.

An example might be, I feel hurt when it looks like you're not listening because I really want to share my thoughts with you. "I" messages are a way of expressing how you feel about a situation without placing blame, or eliciting a defensive or argumentative response. If a parent says "You were supposed to take out the garbage, can't you remember anything?" the child (or adult) is likely to tune out the parent and feel resentful, defensive, or angry.

If instead, the parent expresses his/her feelings in the form of an "I" message, ("I feel betrayed when the trash isn't taken out, because I trusted you to keep your word.") The child will understand that his/her actions have an effect on others. He will realize that the parent's expectation is that he does the chore that has been assigned and agreed upon.

The parent might go one step further and add, "I would appreciate it if you would take it out now." This is a clear and direct addition to the parents previously expressed expectation of the child. It is also phrased in the form of a "revised" "I message" and eliminates a demanding or controlling attitude that kids feel defensive from.

Once you begin to use "I" messages regularly and they begin to feel more natural in conversation you will learn how to vary the original form in certain situations without distorting the effect of the communication. Often people say, "People don't really talk like this." But in fact, we do - those of us who have made it a habit and have experienced the positive effects. It is just that when you are first beginning to change the way you talk it feels strange, even silly. But once it becomes a habit neither you nor those around you will think anything of it. But it will have an enormous positive impact on your relationships with everyone around you

When people hear "you-this" and "you-that," they have a tendency to become defiant and defensive. If the parent, on the other hand, is expressing his or her own feelings and expectations without ordering or blaming, the child is more likely to respond with respect rather than retaliate or act out. The parenting goal here isn't to show the child how angry s/he has made you, it is to have the chore done and to teach the child that his/her misbehavior has a negative effect on the family and on his/her future privileges.

Crating an angry child can lead to the child behaving disrespectfully, feeling little or no empathy for others and putting themselves into dangerous or illegal situations. A dehumanized child (ridiculed, yelled at, treated with disdain) may begin to withdraw from the parent and perhaps the world in general. They will grow to feel worthless. They will find ways of diminishing the pain they feel inside by overeating, hurting themselves, drugs, alcohol, starvation, promiscuity etc., Some children become imploders - they turn their feelings inward and may eventually become depressed or even suicidal. Other children become exploders - they turn all their emotions into anger, become verbally or physically combative and may wind up in the juvenile justice system.
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