Should a parent apologize to a child? Absolutely. It’s good to model apologizing and it helps build trust. But not too long ago I was at a point where I was apologizing so much it started affecting the parent-child dynamic. My 8-year-old daughter tried out some snippy back-talk when I asked her if she’d done her chores. I corrected her and sent her to her room for some time to cool down. When I went in to talk to her, she sat up and said, “Are you going to say sorry now?”
Um, excuse me? I realized in that moment that I was apologizing so much to my kids that they were starting to assume an apology was coming. I’d given them the impression that I was always at fault in some way. I will always admit when I’ve hurt or offended them, but if I’m apologizing at times when I shouldn’t, I’m missing out on opportunities to help them grow and learn from their mistakes. So should a parent apologize to a child? Yes, but there are 3 times you should think twice before saying, “I’m sorry.”
When You Didn’t Cross the Line
Just because you show emotion doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong. You can be firm when you’re angry. You can be sad and cry. You can be frustrated and disappointed. Sometimes our kids need to see this kind of raw emotion from us to understand the full weight of their own wrong choices.
The question is: Did your emotional response cross the line? Was it verbally insulting or physically harmful? Did it go too far or too long? If not, then think twice before apologizing. Apologizing for our emotions teaches our kids that feeling emotion is wrong. Now, sometimes our kids perceive anger more intensely than we intended. In those moments, it’s good to sit with them and talk about what you said and how you said it. You can apologize for coming across as harsh, but not for feeling what you felt.
When They Are Processing What They Did Wrong
One of the biggest challenges I’ve experienced in disciplining my children is giving them time to process what they did wrong. I want them to see it and be remorseful right away! But they need time to process. I find that I’m just so uncomfortable with the discord between us that I want to do what I need to do to fix the situation.
Even if you owe your child an apology, give it a little time before you swoop in and say you’re sorry. When you do it too quickly, it can shift the focus from what your child did wrong to what you did wrong. Let kids think about their part in it for a while before you distract them from their learning.
When Yours Isn’t the Apology They Really Need
This is a tough one. Sometimes we feel bad for our children because they really deserve an apology from someone else, like their dad or a sibling, but they aren’t getting it. In an effort to ease their pain, we apologize on behalf of that person. But when we apologize for others, we’re doing something that isn’t our responsibility to do.
Instead, sympathize (which is, I think, what we really mean to do in the first place). Let her know you know it’s tough. Tell him you see his pain. And can I challenge you here? Let go of trying to control the conflict going on between your child and other people.
Moms, let’s level with each other. If you’re like me, conflict and discord and “negative” feelings make you uncomfortable. You want to make things better with (and for) your child right away. But don’t apologize simply for the sake of making things “OK” faster. The next time you want to rush in and apologize, pause and ask yourself these three questions: Did I respond in a way that crossed the line? Is my child beyond the beginning stage of processing what he or she did wrong? Am I truly apologizing on behalf of myself? If the answer to these questions is yes, then go for it.
Are there other times when you think moms should not apologize?