The "I Need Message"

An “I Need Message” is a short and sweet way for students to be assertive and get their needs met, even with people they don’t know well.

The “I Message” is a staple of social and emotional learning that allows us to be assertive (strong but not mean) when we’re upset about something another person has done.  The classic I Message could also be called the “I Feel Message.” It goes like this:
                I feel  (state your feeling)
                when (describe the circumstances that caused this feeling)
                because  (explain the reasons you feel this way).
An I Feel Message is best used with people who know us, care about us, and have time to engage with us. 
But when used with people who don’t have a vested interest in us, or who simply don’t have time to engage, an I Feel Message can actually backfire.  Imagine a third-grader giving a sixth-grader an I Feel Message about being left out of a basketball game. The game would need to come to a halt, the sixth-graders would need to turn their attention to listening to the feelings of someone who is not a peer, and from there it is hard to say what would happen! Or imagine a child using an “I Feel Message” when a classmate has skipped them in line. The whole line might move on before the message had been delivered and received!
In these situations, I find that students have success with a variation on the I Message that we could call an “I Need Message.” An I Need Message is a short and sweet way of being assertive and getting your needs met. It doesn’t ask the receiver for verbal engagement but for action. 
To form an “I Need Message,” simply state your needs and end with an expression of thanks.
Sometimes identifying and valuing our needs can be difficult. We might imagine that the needs of others are more important than our own, and decide not to communicate our needs at all. Or we might imagine that we will be met with resistance if we communicate our needs and end up stating them in the form of an accusation, such as:

  • You are blocking the closet and I can’t hang up my coat.
  • You are rushing me!
  • You are being too noisy!
  • You are in my spot!

But by learning and practicing I Need Messages, we can begin making assertive rather than accusative statements that help us get our needs met.  For instance:

  • I need to hang up my coat. Could you move? Thanks!
  • I need a few more minutes to finish. Thanks!
  • I need to concentrate. Can we talk later? Thanks!
  • I need to sit in my own rug spot. Thanks!

Teaching kids when and how to use an “I Need Message” can go a long way in improving classroom climate.