How to use I Statements for Kids
Teaching and modeling “I” statements for kids is critical to creating a safe learning environment. I statements help students learn how to frame their thoughts and ideas. The goal is to focus solely on what kids are feeling and not what someone else may or may not be feeling, thinking, or doing. In addition, clear communication helps to build strong connections to develop among students and between adults and students.
What are I Statements?
I statements are used to let someone know that you feel strongly about something without putting them on defense. They can let the other person know that you own the feeling you are experiencing and are trying to deal with it yourself, but you need help from them.
When you use an I statement, you express your feelings without blaming the other person for making you feel that way. Instead, an I statement requires you to take full responsibility for your feelings.
The Difference Between “I Statements” & “You Statements”
A You statement creates a scenario of blame. When you start a sentence with “you,” you imply that the other person is responsible for something. When someone feels accused of something, their natural reaction is to become defensive and resentful. Therefore, any further communication after a You statement will be defensive rather than productive.
The purpose of an I statement is to get your feelings heard, while the purpose of a you statement is to blame someone else for your feelings. An I statement allows someone to retain and use their personal control and confidence. While You statements move the control to the other person, strengthening the idea that they are “out of control” or that someone else has power over them.
The Pitfalls of “You Statements”
When a strong negative emotion takes over our brains, it doesn’t feel good, and what we want is to get rid of that negative feeling. We want to return to a relaxed state in which, in the least, we are experiencing neutral emotions.
Fight or Flight Response
Strong negative feelings set off our “fight or flight” response. Our “fight or flight” response is a genetic and evolutionary response that our bodies have to protect us from things that could harm us. Once our bodies go into “fight or flight,” our goal is to protect ourselves and remove the immediate threat. The immediate threat in this case is the strong negative emotion.
It is habitual and automatic for our communication style to be one of “fight,” which blames someone for causing the emotion and requires them to “fix” it. Therefore, you statements are the communication of choice when we are in fight mode.
The problem is that when we place the control in the other person’s hand, we send them into a “fight or flight” response. So then we have to accept that our only line of defense in the situation is to hope that the other person says or does something that will “fix” our negative emotions.
I don’t know about you, but when I put my fate in some else’s hands, it doesn’t make me feel better; it makes me feel worse!
Even though You statements are a genetic response to a perceived threat, they actually make the situation worse by making you feel powerless.
Here is an example of a you statement that makes the communicator feel powerless:
“You never let me play.”
Using “I Statements” Effectively
We can help our students get their needs met, diffuse negative emotions, AND help them feel more powerful and confident by teaching them to communicate using I statements.
In the above example, the student is expressing defeat over never being asked to play. They started their statement with “You.” To reframe this into a more effective I statement, you could prompt them to begin with “I feel….”.
The I statements for kids that could help them express their feelings with confidence could sound like this” “I am feeling left out because I haven’t had a chance to join your game.”
Watch out for that Sneaky “You” Statement!
Be careful to not add in a “you” after you have made your I statement, for example:
“I am feeling left out because YOU never let me play.”
While this statement began as an I statement, any effective communication gained through that first part was lost once the accusational “YOU” was added.
Another tip for using I statements effectively is to pay attention to and control facial and body expressions. Facial expressions, body posture, and tone of voice need to match your desire or intention to communicate positively. Otherwise, your I statement will fall into unopened ears!
Practice Communicating With “I Statements”
It can be rather tricky for students who are already overwhelmed by their negative emotions to communicate effectively or learn and use I statements. Therefore, it is essential to provide your students with opportunities to practice these I statements in less emotionally charged situations. The more practice they get at using them, the greater their confidence in using them when it really counts.
Here are a few scenarios that you can encourage your students to practice using I statements. This practice will help them so they can effectively use I statements in emotionally charged situations.
Using I statements for kids is an excellent way to complement another student by letting them know exactly how they feel and why. For example, they might say, “I feel so happy when we can play this game together.” Seek out and plan for the purposeful practice of this strategy. Provide additional scaffolding in the beginning by providing examples of I statements they could use to compliment others. When you hear your students engaging in, I statement compliments, praise them!
Asking for Help
I statements can be used by students to let adults know when they need help. For example, they might say, “I feel frustrated when I try to do this math problem.” Likewise, they may say, “I’m feeling overwhelmed because I don’t have enough time,” instead of “you are rushing me.”
Before you send your students off to do independent work:
- Tell them that they can use I statements when they feel particularly confused, frustrated, or stuck.
- Reinforce students’ use of these I statements to ask for help in group discussions by praising them when they choose to use them independently.
- Encourage students who may be acting out in other ways to communicate their frustration by using an I statement.
The more experience students have with getting their needs met AFTER using an I statement, the more they will associate I statements with a positive outcome.
I statements can also be a way to disagree with an adult or a peer respectfully. For example, they might say, “I don’t think that it is true that everyone can draw because I don’t think I am good at it at all.”
Not only will this allow them to communicate their disagreement and feelings, but it gives you, as the teacher, critical information you can use to support them in moving forward with the lesson.
Giving Constructive Criticism
You can use I statements for constructive criticism, such as, “I had a hard time understanding what you wrote” instead of “the way you write is confusing.”
The student receiving this type of constructive criticism will gain insight into their work or isn’t effectively expressing what they intended it to communicate. In addition, this type of criticism allows them to refine their work and feel more confident about it.
Making I Statements for Kids Fun!
Different students at different stages of their social-emotional development will be more or less responsive to learning and using I statements. That is why I have created an “I statements” resource to make learning about and practicing I statements fun and more concrete.
My Emoji I Statements pdf is a fun way for students to identify their feelings and write an I statement. This emoji I statement pdf gives students a chance to draw three feeling emojis and write an I statement to go with them.
Follow-up “I Statements”
After making an I statement about their feelings, students can make an I statement about what they would like to see happen next without offending the other student. For example, they might say, “I would like it if we could take turns” instead of “you never give me a turn.” Similarly, “I was hoping we could do this activity together” instead of, “you need to share.”
This emoji I statement pdf gives students a chance to practice writing an I statement and then a follow-up statement about what they would like to happen instead. They can then write an action step they can take towards making that happen.
“I Statement” Journaling
After giving your students a lot of practice with the I statement activities with your support, they are ready to start applying I statements independently. For example, you can use the cut-apart pages as a way for students to write about their feelings on an as-needed basis. In addition, they can put in an accessible classroom location for students who need a cool-down or reflection activity. Another option is to provide each of your students with their own mini I statement journal.
Get started using I statements for kids in your classroom by purchasing my Emoji Drawing and I statement Writing Lesson. This I can statement pdf resource includes all of the pages shown above, plus some fun drawing pages to make I statements fun and engaging.
Click on the image for more information.
Teaching and modeling “I” statements with students is critical to creating a safe learning environment. As teachers and caregivers, we know how vital it is to help students find positive ways to deal with their strong emotions. Not only does it help students get their needs met, but it helps them feel more comfortable, in general, in the classroom and among their peers. When you purposefully engage students in positive communication styles that meet their needs, they can relax and develop strong connections.
• How will you use I statements for kids in your classroom to support your students?
• What time during your school day can you intentionally plan opportunities for your students to use I statements?
• Are there any particular students that could benefit from reframing their emotions into I statements?
Social & Emotional Learning in Art
Remind yourself and others of the social and emotional benefits of art. This is a great graphic to include in parent newsletters or display in your room.
You can read more about Social Emotional Learning in Art in this blog post.
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