I apologize to my kids regularly.
I’m not a perfect parent, and I make mistakes; I say things I wish I hadn’t, over-react sometimes, and once in a while behave unfairly toward my children. In all authenticity and transparency I have to admit-it happens. You know the feeling-the guilty pang of regret after handling a parenting situation a little less awesome than you would have liked. THEN what? Do you take it back? Overcompensate? Remove the consequence? Pretend it didn’t happen and move on?
I apologize, and here’s why:
1. I want to raise emotionally intelligent people, and apologizing is a way to model emotionally intelligent behavior to my children. By apologizing, not only will you model EI, but you also teach them how to own their own “stuff.” Taking responsibiltiy for one’s own behavior is a key trait of successful people! Making mistakes is a part of life, and learning to apologize and move on without hard feelings is also a way to foster resilience in yourself and your children.
2. Appropriately apologizing also teaches children how to care for someone they have hurt emotionally. Not only will owning their own behavior help them with relationships, but exhibiting empathy to someone they’ve hurt will be a valuable skill in any relationship they engage in. When you apologize appropriately, you also model boundaries. You apologize without excusing them of their behavioral mistakes, instead of overcompensating for your guilt by removing the consequences or making it all about you and your guilt.
3. Apologizing to your kids communicates their value to you. When you apologize, you are telling your kids they are important to you. You are also sending the message that THEY are more important than your ego. Your children are worth your humility.
First, it’s important to know HOW to apologize. Own your mistake, but don’t blame your child for it. For example, you could say, “I’m really sorry I yelled at you. I was really tired and frustrated, but it still wasn’t ok for me to lose my temper and yell.” Notice that there was NO mention of what the child did-no blame placed on them for your behavior. DON’T make it about them, i.e., “ I’m sorry I yelled but I only did it because you wouldn’t listen.”
After you apologize, you can follow-up with expectations, starting with your own first. So you could say something like, “I’m going to work hard at not yelling at you, even when I’m tired or frustrated.” Then, you can address their behavior. You could ask, “While I work on this, do you think you can work on listening to me and responding the first time I ask?” (or whatever the behavior is you want to address) This addresses the boundary issue-dividing the line between what your responsibility is in the situation, and what theirs is.
With older kids or teenagers, your apologies will be a little different, as will your expectations. You might say something like, “I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions. I’ll try to hear you out before making judgements or imposing a consequence. Do you think you could work on being on time for curfew so I won’t have to impose a consequence?” Notice that the apology was given without direct reference to the mistake the child made, but the expectations were clear, and the consequence boundary is still in effect.
Don’t expect a spontaneous apology in return. You have to remember that children aren’t adults, and that often they have to be taught something repeatedly before they really get it. This is simply an issue of brain function; their frontal lobes won’t fully develop until at least age 18, so they can’t be expected to behave like adults. You might get lucky and get an apology in return anyway-a nice parental payday! Either way, the goal here is to help your kid get to adulthood with the skills and knowledge it takes to succeed in relationships, and this starts with YOU as a parent.