The words “I’m sorry” are simple ones, but they hold a lot of meaning. Apologizing is an important aspect of parenting.
Giving your kids the ability to see you make a mistake, accept it and learn from it is one of the most valuable lessons you can teach by example.
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Should Parents Apologize to Their Kids?
Apologizing is a way to show you accept responsibility for your own actions. Apologizing to your child shows them you respect them. It also shows you are strong enough to recognize when you’re wrong. Children learn dependability and compassion when they are given this kind of example.
The Art of the Apology
Years ago, I had a job in which I was sent to a two-week training seminar to learn how to work with difficult people. Unfortunately, because of the nature of that job, I used the skills I learned every day. The number one lesson that was taught: Apologize.
People need to be able to hear honest, sincere apologies when they feel they have been slighted. The #sorrynotsorry culture aside, apologies give others an immediate release. They feel a weight lifted from them because that weight has been accepted by the person who apologized.
Learning how to apologize and when to use those apologies in the right circumstances is important for all people. This is especially true for parents who want to lead by example.
The business approach to apologies can be used in parenting. As a parent, I am not perfect. I have made mistakes, and I will continue to make them, probably today. I feel no need to pretend I am flawless, and I have no problem owning my errors.
I feel my children learn there is no shame in accepting their own flaws. As I always tell them, if we never make mistakes, we never learn.
The key to a good apology is to own it. The fauxpology puts the onus on the person receiving the apology. “I’m sorry you feel that way” is an example of a fauxpology.
Apologizing in that way makes it seem as though it’s the other’s fault for being slighted. Any time you choose to make the recipient the subject in the sentence rather than the object, you may be issuing a fauxpology.
A good way to turn that around is to say, “I’m sorry what I did made you feel bad.” That, again, puts the burden on you.
What does that have to do with parenting? Quite a lot. Your kids may feel hurt because you forgot to take them to a party they were looking forward to, or you had to work late and miss time spent with them.
Saying, “I’m sorry you are hurting,” might seem like the right answer, but that sentence blames them for being hurt. Instead, say “I’m sorry that I made a mistake that hurt you” or “I’m sorry that I couldn’t leave work earlier” can make a big difference in how your children feel about themselves.
The Absentee Apology
Sometimes, a parent may feel the need to apologize for things that are not their fault or that are out of their control. For instance, my daughter was injured during a flag football game at recess. My immediate response was, “I’m sorry.”
It wasn’t my fault, but I did feel sorrow at her injury. In an instance like this, the apology is not about accepting responsibility but about sympathizing with her pain.
Can You Over-Apologize?
There are instances when apologizing can go too far. My husband and I found our young daughter constantly apologizing for things that were certainly not her fault.
We then had to reteach her that sometimes no apology is necessary. It is important to know when to accept responsibility for a transgression and when it’s time to let someone else own their mistakes.
Knowing when not to apologize can be a very fine line and sometimes a difficult one to see. Still, our children need to learn to accept their own faults but also not to always blame themselves when they shouldn’t.
The Perfect Parent
I was raised by a “perfect” parent. My father could never admit he was wrong about anything. I grew up thinking that I was always to blame for the things that happened to me.
I also grew up believing my father was selfish, power-hungry, and the kind of person I couldn’t go to in times of need. I had to fight hard to become the type of person who could accept her own failure because I was taught that apologizing was a sign of weakness.
I know now that apologizing when it is warranted is a sign of strength. Sometimes I yell at my children, and I feel awful about it. I apologize to them and tell them that I’m sorry, I’m stressed, and I didn’t know how else to manage my emotions. They forgive me.
Sometimes my work piles up so much that I can’t spend promised time with my children. I apologize and make plans to do better. They forgive me. Sometimes, my kids make mistakes. They have learned to apologize. And I forgive them.
Reflect on How You Feel About Apologizing
How do you feel about apologizing to your children? What are some experiences you have had with accepting responsibility when things go wrong? We want to hear from you. Please share your stories in the comments.
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