Parents Need to Apologize, too

Not long ago, my 4-year-old and his best friend “Tom” were racing each other to get to a bench in the park.  My son was leading by a step, but Tom gave him a forearm shiver, and my son fell to the ground in tears, with a skinned knee.  Tom’s father did what was expected.  With a stern voice he asked him what he’d done wrong, had him tell my son “sorry,” and gave him a time out.  Of course it wasn’t long before my son returned the favor and left Tom in tears.  In turn, I had the stern conversation, had him apologize, and gave him a time out.

A few days later, my son didn’t do what I’d asked.  As it was the umpteenth time he’d ignored me, I felt frustrated.  Although I didn’t berate or yell at him, I said some things that hurt his feelings.  Although I felt justified getting angry, I felt badly because I’d hurt his feelings, and I considered what to say and do.

On one hand, it seemed logical.  If I expected him to apologize when he hurt his friend, then shouldn’t I do the same?  Maybe it was my pride or ego or the belief that parents shouldn’t HAVE to apologize to their kids, but something kept me from apologizing immediately.  After thinking about it, I realized that it’s vital for me to be a good role model for my son.  If I expect him to take responsibility for his mistakes, then I should too.  I used this as my guide and apologized, and we went on with our day.

When we apologize to our kids, word choice is crucial.  It’s important not to say, “I’m sorry, BUT.”   When you add “but” to your apology, you’re doing little beyond justifying what you said.

Instead, keep it simple and say something like, “I’m sorry for saying/doing what I did.  It wasn’t ok.”  Then, take time to listen to his/her response without getting defensive.  By doing this, you’ve taken responsibility for what you’ve said/done.  As an added bonus, your apology could open the door for further conversation, in which your child might end up hearing your original point.

There are also some steps to take on your own.  Reflect on how you handled the situation and consider how you’d like to approach a similar situation more effectively next time.  That way, you’ll have a plan rather than simply reacting.

Also, consider how you were feeling when you spoke or acted poorly.  Did you have a particularly difficult day?  Or were you worried about other issues?  If so, could you have taken steps (e.g. go to the gym or talking to a friend) to help you decompress before heading home?

Believe me, apologizing to our kids can be humbling and difficult.  However, when we do, we’re giving our kids the message that it’s important to take responsibility for their mistakes.  We’re also giving them the message that we’re imperfect, but we’ll try to do it better next time.  After all, how are our kids supposed to learn and grow, if we don’t show them how to do it?



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