Positive Discipline in the Classroom: I-Messages

This post is part of a series on the skills children learn in a Positive Discipline classroom, and how parents can support their children in using these skills outside of school. For more background on this series, read Positive Discipline in The Classroom: Bringing The Skills Home.

If you are in the Pacific Northwest, check out Sound Discipline to learn more about bringing Positive Discipline to your school or community.

What Children Learn:

I-Messages are an extension of the Bugs and Wishes Activity. Instead of saying "It bugs me when _______ and I wish you would ________," we include a specific feeling word to convey our emotions. We then state the problem and what we wish would happen instead.

Format: "I feel_______ when ______ and I wish_______."

In class, students also talk about how to respond when they hear an I-message, and can draw on the response examples brainstormed during the Bugs and Wishes Activity.

Why It’s Important:

Expressing feelings is a learned skill and so this is a great tool for children to practice it. I-Messages also help children learn the difference between complaining and actually asking for what they want.

The wish part is about focusing on solutions, instead of continuing to restate the problem. This is a common one for adults and kids alike. Instead of saying what we want, we keep restating the problem over and over hoping the other person will magically guess what we want them to do instead. This is one reasons why calming down first will help us all communicate much more effectively.

How Parents Can Support Use At Home:

Talking about our feelings and needs is hard work. It’s so easy to start with “you made me feel _______,” or “you did _________.” The problem is, we are not recognizing our part in the problem, and are likely to just put the other person on the defense. Using I-Messages with our kids helps them hear what we say and helps them know what you would like to happen instead. Our modeling is what helps children (and partners, coworkers, etc.) learn how to use I-Messages to express their feelings as well.