Sometimes it feels like you cannot change your child’s behavior so try focusing on changing your own behavior instead. For this, use “I messages”. This only works in certain situations, though, but can be an extremely effective tool.

“I messages” are about controlling your own behavior around your child because sometimes that is the only thing you can control. For this method, think about what you are willing to do and what your boundaries are.

The following are examples of when this method is useful:

• If your child is talking disrespectfully to you, say:

“I won’t talk to you when you use that tone of voice or those words with me.” Just say this once. Then walk away. 

• If your child won’t get in bed, say:

“I will wait here for two minutes to start reading a story and to cuddle with you and then I need to leave.” If the child doesn’t come within two minutes, leave. Do not repeat yourself or plead for the child to listen to you. Say it once assertively and then follow through. The child will be unhappy but the next night, the child will come to bed.

• If your child won’t wash her hands before dinner, say:

“I serve food to people who have washed their hands.” Say it once. If they don’t listen, sit down and eat yourself but don’t keep talking about it.

  • If the children won’t stop yelling in the car:

Stop the car till it is quiet.

  • If they won’t pick up their toys, say:

“I will walk around and in 10 minutes I will take away the toys still on the floor. Next week I will put them out again.” Say it once and follow through.

For more in depth information about this one, read the article “HOW TO GET YOUR CHILD TO CLEAN HIS ROOM”.

  1. With the “I” method, you need to tell them, the day before (not in the heat of the moment) that you are going to try this new method. The first time, they might not believe you and not pick up their toys. It is important to follow through and put the toys out of their reach as you said you would.
  2. While you are picking up their toys and afterwards, don’t give them any “I told you sos”. They already have the consequence of losing their toys.

Some children might scream and yell as you leave as they are used to your begging them to do something. You can say calmly and assertively (not sassily), “I think you are wondering if yelling will change my mind. I am not changing my mind.”

Sometimes, the only thing we can do is control our own actions and let the children live with those. The I method only works if the child wants what is being withheld. For example, if they won’t take out the trash, it is harder because they don’t care if the trash is taken out.

Finally, this method will not work if you use emotional dumping. If they don’t wash their hands, don’t serve them dinner and don’t say, “Well, if you had washed your hands, we wouldn’t be having this problem now, would we?” Also, do not lose control of your own emotions, you are the adult.


Kvols, K. (1997). Redirecting children’s behavior (3rd ed.). Seattle, WA: Parenting Press.