“I” Statement vs. “You” Statements–Part 1

Teaching kids and perhaps ourselves about “I” Statements vs. “You” Statements may be one of the more valuable life skills topics that we can share with someone.  An I-message expresses our feelings or beliefs of the person speaking and usually begins with the word “I”, where in contrast a You-message begins with the word “you” and focuses on the person being spoken to.

If we begin a statement with “I” then we are referring to ourselves, assuming we’re doing the speaking.  When we begin with “you” we can easily put the other person on the defensive right away.  They may easily misinterpret your message or even completely turn-you-off.  By stating our concern starting with “I” we are taking ownership of the issues and in effect saying, “I could be wrong here”, or “I see it this way”, which gives the receiver of the message some room to consider what you’re saying and then decide for themselves if they can also take some ownership.

We know what it is like to be around people that never take ownership of anything.  People who always seem to blame others for their problems and feelings.  Kids have a natural tendency here to default to the “You” sentence starters.  But they can be taught to say what they need to say and still leave the reception open to hearing what they’re saying.  This is a life skill of great importance which can apply to nearly every relationship they will have in life.

One day at home I was expressing  frustration about something to my wife and she came forth with the statement, “You never own anything.”  I was surprised because I didn’t feel like I was trying to “pass-off” blame for something, but simply expressing myself and telling her why I felt like I did.  For days afterward I kept thinking about why that happened because I realized that it might be true.  Often times when we express our opinions or thoughts about something it comes off as shirking the blame from ourselves to someone else.

When we want to express ourselves and we start a sentence with “you” we close down communication with the other person without them hearing anything.  If we start the sentence with “I” and complete it by saying how we feel about something, the person listening immediately begins to consider whether they agree with you or not.

We will discuss this further in Parts 2 & 3 in this series.

Yours for better parenting,

Rich