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Should You Apologize to Your Child?

First things first, right?  Maybe you don’t believe that apologizing to your children is such a good idea.  That was a common belief among a generation of parents.  The idea goes that the parent is always right, even if he or she is wrong.  There are situations in which we need our children to take our word for it and not question us.  Sometimes their safety may depend on it!  Some parents may believe that when a parent admits that he or she was wrong, the child might begin to lose trust and feel unsafe in a big and scary world.  Other parents may feel that if they apologize when they are wrong that their children may take them less seriously when they attempt to discipline them in the future.

All of those ways of thinking are understandable, although they are not valid.  When my children were preschoolers, I used a completely different tone of voice to tell them to clean their rooms than I did when telling them to freeze in a parking lot.  They knew the difference and they knew that one tone of voice was directly related to their safety and the other was a request with which they needed to comply, but not urgently.

In addition, our children will trust us more when we are honest with them.  They will grow their self-confidence by realizing that even mom and dad make mistakes.  They will see that we are emotionally mature enough to admit our mistakes and to ask for forgiveness.  This is very important modeling for teaching our children how to behave in relationships.

Finally, your children will take you seriously if you behave seriously when the situation requires seriousness. (Seriously!)  If you are a permissive parent, your children aren’t going to take you seriously ever.  If you are an authoritarian parent, your children aren’t going to take you seriously because you make everything into something serious.

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When Should You Apologize to Your Child?

The answer to this question may seem obvious, but I’m not sure it actually is.  When I encourage parents to apologize to their children, I am talking about meaningful apologies and not a string of “I’m sorry-s” throughout the day.

For instance, when you blame your child for something he didn’t do and later you find out the truth, you should apologize.  On the other hand, when your child gets upset because you asked her to clean her room and she doesn’t want to, you should not apologize for the request or for her big feelings.

Apologizing for correctly disciplining (teaching) your child is bad parenting.  It shows that you feel guilty for telling your child to do things that they need to do to grow up in a civilized world.  It makes you look weak and wishy-washy.  For example, if you feel guilty for telling your child to clean her room, you need to decide why that is and if you will continue to make that request.  Always have a good reason for discipline and cut out any discipline that you don’t have a reason for applying. You should understand why a particular request is important for your child’s well-being.  Once you know that, you can make the request in a confident manner with no need for apologies.

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Don’t apologize for the behavior of others.  You didn’t call your son a name — his brother did!  Work with his brother to help him make amends for his hurtful behavior.  Don’t apologize for him because you don’t want to deal with helping him make amends.

Here are some situations for which you should apologize to your children:

1.  When you yell at them or punish them harshly.
2.  When you shame or embarrass them.
3.  When you blame them for something they didn’t do.
4.  When lose your temper or behave in an overly emotional manner.
5.  When they see you behave in a rude way toward others.
6.  When you don’t keep your word.

How to Apologize to Your Child

If you’ve never done it before, figuring out how to apologize to your child may seem daunting.  It requires humility, for certain, and your child might not always accept your apology.

Here are some tips for how to apologize to your child.

1.  Apologize only after you and your child have cooled down.  Don’t try to apologize to your child when he or she is still angry.

2.  Keep it short.  You don’t have to explain everything you were thinking when you did the wrong thing.  Let your child know you were wrong, that you now see you were wrong and that you want to apologize for what you did or said.

3.  Do not negate your apology with a “but”!  This one is important.  Don’t say, “I’m sorry for yelling at you, but you should have cleaned your room.”  Your child is NOT responsible for your bad behavior — even if it was something they did that you reacted to.  You are responsible for your own words and your behavior just as you are teaching them to be responsible for their words and behavior.

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4.  Try to make amends.  Sometimes when we mess up in life, the problem can’t be fixed, but trying to find a way to make up for the mistake is a good idea.  Remember that unless you wrongly took something away from your child, you don’t owe your child anything but your apology and your promise to refrain from the behavior in the future.  But, sometimes, say, a trip for ice cream, might help to repair the relationship that was damaged when you behaved badly.  Buying your child a new video game probably won’t.  Don’t let your child misuse your apology as a bargaining chip for material possessions.

5.  Once you’ve apologized and made amends, let it go.  Don’t allow your child to drag it out or hold it over your head.  Set a good example by not holding your child’s misdeeds over him or her.  Once the apology is made, it is done.  Move on.

Apologizing to your child is a healthy way to maintain a relationship and to teach your child how to treat others when he or she has wronged them or made a mistake.  Remember that our children model what we do more than what we say!

How do you apologize to your child?

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