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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patty Russo

Change the Way Your Teen Responds to You By Using I-Messages

“If you weren’t so lazy your homework would be done.”
“When will you stop talking back?”
“You lied to me, you said you would be home at 10!”

Do any of these statements sound somewhat familiar? It’s often the small day-to-day tasks that cause the biggest arguments. It may not necessarily be WHAT we say, but the WAY we say things that trigger pouting, yelling, and negative feelings. In family therapy, we work together to identify communication roadblocks at home and practice speaking to one another in a different way. One strategy that we regularly use are “I-Messages.”

The purpose of an I-Message is to let the other person know how you feel and provides feedback in a non-judgmental way. It shifts focus from telling your child what not to do, to telling them what you rather them do. The opposite of an I-Message is a “You-Message” (see examples above), which we have a tendency to resort to when we are stressed or getting frustrated. You-Messages make people feel defensive, assign blame, and often lead to power struggles.


Parts of an I-Message

1. I feel _______________

2. When _______________

3. Because _______________

4. What I would like _______________


“If you weren’t so lazy your homework would be done.”

“I feel frustrated when homework is started late at night because it doesn’t leave time to relax and get ready for bed. I would like it if homework started before dinner.”

“When will you stop talking back?”

“I feel hurt when you talk to me in that tone because I feel like I am not being heard. I’d like to try talking to each other when we are both calm.”

“You lied to me, you said you would be home at 10!”

“I get worried when you come home late, and I can’t sleep. I would like you to call so I know you are safe.”


Using I-Messages takes practice, but it can help increase positive communication and models healthy emotion-identification skills for your kids. Children, teens, and parents may be more open to hearing about how their behaviors have impacted others when they feel they are not being accused or blamed. Some parents have trouble with I-Messages because they feel they are giving into bad behaviors. However, I-Messages do not replace appropriate consequences. For example, if your child comes home past curfew, consequences should still be put into place.

The aim of an I-Message is to change the communication pattern at home from blaming to understanding. I-Messages can also be used to communicate positive messages (e.g. “I feel so happy to see you helping your sister with her homework because it shows how caring you are!”). I-Messages are also more effective when used in a calm tone and paired with active listening techniques.

To learn more ways to improve communication at home and how to use I-Messages and active listening techniques, contact Dr. Patty to schedule a free consultation.




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