The Importance of Apologizing To Children
“As a (parent) you must make hundreds of decisions, some of them on the spot while your mind is involved in three other things. All of us say things we regret, so apologize. There is nothing wrong with telling your child you were out of line and that you are sorry.”
– Barry Frieman, Ed.D. (2005, p. 75)
Many parents assume that apologizing to their children is a sign of weakness or that it somehow undermines their authority. This isn’t the case at all. When it comes to your own life, who do you respect more: Someone who stubbornly insists that they are right all the time, or someone who is secure enough to admit when they make a mistake and also cares enough to apologize?
In this regard, children are no different than you are, and apologizing doesn’t undermine their view of you as a parent; it strengthens it. It’s much easier for kids to accept you being imperfect than it is to live with a stubborn know-it-all who refuses to admit his mistakes. Apologies are a way to wipe the slate clean and start fresh, and so in that regard, they are an important parent communication skill. The ability to apologize is also an important social skill. If you behave as though apologizing is a sign of weakness, guess which attitude your children are going to internalize as they grow older!
Guidelines for apologizing
Many people assume that apologies are always about right and wrong. This is hardly the case. An apology is simply an acknowledgement of regret over hurt that was caused to others, whether right or wrong, intentional or unintentional. Don’t think about apologies in black and white morality terms, or you’ll be reluctant to do it.
When to apologize to children
Can you remember a time when you’ve apologized to your kids? If not, you’re either the world’s first perfect parent, or you aren’t apologizing when it’s appropriate. Here are some key times when it’s important to apologize:
Apologize if you make a mistake or do something you shouldn’t have.
Apologize whenever you lose your temper or if you feel you over-reacted to something or punished them too harshly. This is a key time for an apology. It makes you appear more reasonable, and it helps clear the air while making children feel better about relationships in general. Children need to understand that people say and do things in the heat of the moment that they later regret, and apologizing when you overreact is a great way to send that message.
Apologize when things get especially raw or heated, even if you don’t feel you’re in the wrong. This is a good time to remember that apologies don’t have to be about right or wrong. It helps to ease the tension and gives children a platform under which they can start over and try to reconcile the situation.
Whenever something you did didn’t achieve the desired results you intended.
When you let your children down.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, but it gives you some areas to focus on.
How to apologize and admit your mistakes
There is a way to apologize in every situation (not that you should, only that it’s possible). You can apologize for…
Not making yourself clear
Coming off as too harsh
The misunderstanding that occurred between you
Causing unintentional insult or injury
“I apologize if I carne off sounding too harsh, but I need you to understand that . . .”
“I’m sorry you’re so upset. It’s certainly not my goal to make you miserable.”
Make a motion towards wiping the slate clean and starting over
“I’ll try to do better in the future.”
“Hopefully we can move past this and start over.”
“Let’s hit the reset button and try to make some good of this.”
Don’t get upset if a child lashes out at you when you try to apologize. If this happens, know that it’s just a sign of the underlying hurt they were feeling, and that expressing this is healthy. Keep your calm and remind them about common courtesy: “I know you’re upset, but I’m trying to apologize and make amends, so I need you to act calm and rationally, not blow up at me.” Then ask them if there’s anything they want to tell you in a calm and reasoned way. You want to clear the air and get it all out on the table.
Use your shortcomings as teaching tools
When you admit your own errors and shortcomings, you set an example that allows children to be open about their own failures. This creates an environment that is more open to behavioral modification. So talk about what happened, what you were thinking at the time, and how you plan on working on this in the future.