Everyone, of all ages, could benefit from using I-feel statements to express their feelings. Often, when people express how they feel, it can come off as attacking, as it can be easy to start with “you,” as in “you shouldn’t raise your voice at me!” While that statement can be true, oftentimes communication will go more smoothly if you, instead, start with, “I feel sad/angry/frustrated/mad/upset when you raise your voice.” I-feel statements are less likely to make others feel defensive.
I-feel statements are hard for adults, and kiddos can struggle twice as much! It takes practice. And more practice. And more practice. Then even more practice! One way I practice I-feel statements with kiddos is by passing a ball back and forth. During this activity, children also practice listening and reflecting statements back to others. Double (or triple) win!
I start with a ball and use an I-statement (not I-feel yet – I give them a chance to warm up with I-statements). I may say “I like the color blue.” Then I pass the ball to the kiddo. He or she will reflect back what I said (“you like the color blue”) then use their own I-statement about their favorite color (“I like the color green”). Then lots of praise for using those skills. After a few rounds of listing favorite color, animal, movie, etc., we start with simple “I feel ____” statements. So I will say “I feel worried” and pass the ball. The kiddo will then say, “you feel worried. I feel happy.” And again, lots of praise!!
Once they get the hang of that, we’ll move into more complete I-feel statements, so “I feel ______ because ______.” So I might say, “I feel happy because I had a cookie at lunch,” then pass the ball. This kiddo would then say, “you feel happy because you had a cookie for lunch. I feel sad because I didn’t get to wear my Superman shirt.” Guess what follows? Yep, lots of praise! And lots more practice.
Typically, my next step will be some role-plays with situations they will likely encounter at school or home. Examples would be using I-feel statements when a sibling took a toy, when they got in trouble at school, or when a peer did something mean to them. This activity can also be done during family therapy sessions by having the kiddo practice with their parents.