Effective Communication with Children (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Dec 8, 2010

Preventive I-Messages

Gordon devised the strategy of the I-message to provide parents with an effective way to address problems that arise in the parent-child relationship because these problems are often challenging for parents and are sometimes handled in ways that are hurtful to both parents and their children. I-messages are useful as well for preventing difficulties in the relationship. As a prevention technique, parents can use I-messages to communicate their positive feelings regarding behaviors of the child that they appreciate.

Let us revisit 12-year-old Kelly and her Mom on the day after Mom used an effective I-message to tell Kelly how she felt about things being left out in the kitchen. The next day, Kelly is sitting in the living room eating her usual after-school peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drinking a glass of milk. Mom comes in the door and Kelly, who has a big smile on her face, says "Hi, Mom." Kelly watches as Mom goes into the kitchen, because she has cleaned up after herself and is hoping Mom will notice. When Mom enters the kitchen and sees that the bread, peanut butter, jelly, and milk have all been put away, she goes back into the living room. With a warm smile, she sends her daughter a positive three-part I-message: "Kelly, when I went into the kitchen, I noticed that you had put away all the things you used to make your snack, and that you cleaned the counter as well (behaviors on the part of the recipient that have not caused a problem), I was so pleased (feelings of the sender). I really appreciate your cleaning up after yourself because that makes things easier for me" (tangible effect of child's behavior on the mother).

As a final point, when parents use I-messages to address or prevent problems, it is important that they have a friendly facial expression, a warm voice tone, and nonthreatening body language. Furthermore, it is essential that the message be specific regarding the behavior in question. Children and adolescents are often confused about what parents are trying to tell them because parents sometimes talk in generalities to their children with statements such as, "I want you to clean up after yourself," which could mean a variety of things. An effective I-message, on the other hand, does not threaten or attack the child nor does it confuse the child. In the case of the preventive I-message, the parent actually affirms the child. Even when no problem has occurred in a particular area, parents might send I-messages to prevent unacceptable behavior in the future. An example of a preventive I-message is, "I like to know where you are when school is out so that I know that you are okay."

Research Findings Showing the Value of Effective Parent-Child Communication

Effective parent-child communication impacts the development of children in a variety of ways at all developmental levels. An interesting illustration of the influence of parent-child communication patterns is that these verbal patterns are often reflected in the dialogues their children have with siblings and friends (Woodward & Markman, 1998). The quality of parent-child verbal exchanges also affects children's developmental outcomes. For instance, open versus problem parent-child communication has been found to be related to children's higher self-esteem and more positive copping strategies (Jackson, Bijstra, Oostra, & Bosnia, 1998). Just as effective parent-child communication is linked to positive child outcomes, ineffective parent-child communication is associated with problems in the parent-child relationship. For instance, Arnett (2004) suggests that some of the arguments that occur between parents and their adolescent children might stem from unexpressed parental concerns. Furthermore, researchers have found that when given the opportunity, children and adolescents are willing to talk to parents. As a case in point, Richardson (2004) found that most young adolescents were able to identify topics they would like to discuss with their parents including their unhappiness with parental conflict, desire for more closeness to their parents, and struggles with autonomy.

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