Help For Parents When Your Kids Cross the Line

And by “crossed the line” we mean that area below your “Line of Acceptance.” You might guess that we’re going to be talking about the amazing, the oh-so-helpful, I-Message. And you’d be right.

Ah yes, I-Messages! Where would we be without them?! The I-Message is one of the invaluable skills found in Parent Effectiveness Training. And parents use Dr. Thomas Gordon‘s conceptual Behavior Window to determine when they need to send them.  (And that Behavior Window?  We like to refer to it as the Relationship GPS as it always helps get you back on track when you get lost.) parenting communication

Okay, here are some key points about the I-Message:

• Expresses the way you’re feeling inside and how you’re being affected by your child’s behavior.

• Lets the child know what’s going on with you and that you need help.

• Doesn’t blame or put down your child or tell them what to do.

• Opens up honest communication with your child and keeps the relationship together.

• Can (but doesn’t always) lead to your child changing to eliminate the problem.

• Lets your child know what problem their behavior is causing but doesn’t give the child a solution.

Okay, let’s dive in, shall we?

A Confrontive I-Message has three parts: Behavior, Effect and Feeling.


• It’s important to describe the specific unacceptable behavior (below your Line) of your kid(s) in a non-blameful way.

• Reminder: behavior is only what you can directly observe, see, hear, smell, taste or feel.

• Your child’s attitudes, feelings, moods and thoughts are not behaviors, because you cannot directly observe them.

• You can only guess about your child’s attitudes, motives and feelings. These guesses are never completely right, and often are very wrong.

• Children (people) get defensive when they feel labeled, judged or analyzed.

• Defensiveness produces resistance; resistance blocks you from getting your needs met.


• Effects are real and direct consequences that you don’t want to experience.parenting communication

• The effects might cost you time, energy or money you would rather spend somewhere else.

• The effects might prevent you from doing something you need or want to do.

• The effects might physically hurt you, make you work harder, make you tired, cause you pain or discomfort.


A feeling is an experience or a sensation that you have in response to someone or something.

• Basically, you experience two types of feelings — pain or pleasure.

• You can experience a wide variety of painful or pleasurable feelings; it is even sometimes hard to know whether the feeling is painful or pleasurable (e.g., when tickled, third helping of your favorite dessert, scratching mosquito bites).

• Thoughts are not the same as feelings; thoughts concern facts, information and knowledge — things in your head.

• Your feelings center in your body — not in your head (e.g., fear can be directly felt in shaking, heart pumping, stomach churning, etc.).

• Your feelings are always changing; you never feel exactly the same from minute to minute, place to place, person to person.

Pro-tip: There is an important difference between a Preventive I-Message and a Confrontive I-Message.

With a Preventive I-Message, you’re trying to prevent a possible problem from occurring — you do not yet have one; you are accepting of the child’s behavior – so far. However, when behavior has already occurred that is unacceptable to you, then you’d be in the “I own a problem” area of the Behavior Window. You must now take personal responsibility to solve the problem. The Confrontive I-Message is how you assert your feelings and try to solve your problem with your child.

If you’d like to learn the P.E.T. skills, please visit our website to see the current online and in-person classes we have available.parenting communication


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