Parenting, perhaps more so than any other relationship, is a series of ruptures and repairs. Modeling useful ways of apologizing – or making a repair – when we act in a way that is hurtful is a tremendous teaching opportunity for our kids. When we move away from needing to be “right” in front of our kids and move toward being “effective” – or skillful – we teach a valuable life lesson.
A few things to think about when apologizing to your children:
As soon as you realize you have done something or said something hurtful, make the apology. Do not wait for the “right” time.
Be behaviorally specific when apologizing; that is, state specifically what you have done or said that was hurtful. Broad terms like “disrespect” or “using a tone” do not give kids the information on exactly what is disrespectful or a negative tone to you.
Use “I” statements. When making an apology, speak only about what it is that you have done that was hurtful. It does not matter what precipitated your behavior, only that you recognize that your behavior – which is within your control – was hurtful.
Do not use “but.” If your apology if followed by the words “but you did …,” you negate the apology. Remember, the apology is not the time to discuss what the other person might have done to prompt your behavior.
Use age appropriate language.
Keep it short and sweet.
Sometimes we need to not only say we are sorry, but also do something to show that we know our behavior was less than exemplary. Think about something nice you could do for your kid to make a repair.
Save the apology for justified hurtful behavior. When we use the words “I’m sorry” for other than ineffective behaviors, we weaken the words.
Be willing to listen to your kids and negotiate on issues that are not safety concerns. If we take the time to listen, we can avoid arguments that might lead to hurtful words or behavior. We also might just get some valuable information about what is important to our kids and why.
Apologizing to our children when we make mistakes sets our children up to learn how to apologize themselves. It’s important for children to learn that it is okay to make mistakes so they will have the confidence to take risks and roll with the punches. Stay calm, be sincere, and don’t be afraid to apologize!
Tracey Masella, LCSW