Have you ever over reacted to something your kids did because you were tired and cranky yourself? Or have you ever realized you should have been doing or not doing something in your parenting you know you need to change? Has there ever been a time when you punished your child for something he or she didn’t actually do? What did you do next?
The answer to that last question is often more important than the answers to all of the others combined. Why? Because we all make parenting mistakes. Some of them are more serious than others. It’s what we do when we realize we have erred though that can impact our relationship with our kids – often for years to come.
There is a school of thought that parents should never apologize to their children. That apologies make us appear weak and unworthy of respect. What happens though in the mind of a child who realizes the parents know they are wrong and yet never admit it or apologize?
The very denial of your parenting mistakes can itself undermine your relationship with your children more than any apology might. To a child – especially an older child or teen – a parent refusing to admit mistakes and apologize sets up a unhealthy dynamic.
The child views this as a betrayal and arrogance on the part of the parent. It makes them feel unloved and disrespected (yes your children deserve their own version of respect from you). If this happens even somewhat regularly, you will destroy the trust and faith they have in you as a parent – much faster than if you admit your mistakes.
Remember though, your apologies to your children have to be “real” apologies. “Sorry, not sorry” attempts at apologizing are just as annoying to our kids as they are to us. So what are the basics of an authentic apology?
- Apologizing for the specific thing you did that was wrong or that you regret. Saying things like “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings” or “Sorry for all of that stuff that happened” won’t work. You need to be as specific as possible about the exact thing you did.
- Omitting excuses. The photo shows how we like to apologize. “I’m sorry, but it’s not really my fault because…” Accepting personal responsibility for your actions is a must if you want your kids to take responsibility for theirs. Since it’s something God also requires of us, it’s a good habit to model and teach your kids.
- Explaining the changes you will make so it won’t happen again in the future. What is your plan for making sure this doesn’t happen again? If you don’t have a concrete plan, chances are great it will happen again and again.
- Explaining how you will try to make things right. Did you give an undeserved consequence? Your child deserves restitution – even if it’s just having the consequence removed. One of the biggest mistakes people make when apologizing is forgetting to try and make right what they ruined with their initial words and actions.
- Asking for their forgiveness. “I’m sorry” while acting like a petulant five year old is not asking for forgiveness. “Will you please forgive me”, is a crucial part of a sincere apology. Remember though, your children are still young and immature. You may have to walk them through how to truly forgive someone – even you. Take the extra time, because a huge part of Christianity revolves around the concept of forgiveness.
Apologizing can be just as difficult for adults as it is for kids. If we don’t take the time and effort to apologize properly, our initial mistakes will be compounded by the damage our lack of apologizing causes. Modeling sincere, complete apologies for your kids can help them in their relationships with others – and more importantly their relationship with God. It’s definitely worth your time and effort to apologize properly to your kids.