Especially for Parents: The Humbling but Important Words, I’m Sorry

Last week as my husband and I were preparing dinner, our 6-year-old brought me her latest artistic creation. It was a baby momento that she had discovered in the scrapbook paper box and colored on. I was upset and disappointed, and my response to her reflected those emotions. Even as I was initially responding to her, I knew that it really wasn’t her fault. I was the one who left the momento in the wrong place, and she should not have been expected to know what it was or what it meant.

A few minutes later, I issued her an apology that acknowledged my overreaction but did not totally absolve her of responsibility. My husband, in his wisdom, called me out on my incomplete apology, and so again I went back to my daughter and let her know that she had done nothing wrong, it was my fault the item was not put away in its proper place, and my reaction to the whole situation was not right or fair.

As a parent, it can be hard and humbling to apologize to your child. We can usually find reasons to justify how we handle or react to something, especially if we’ve come to the point of a charged response after so much rationality has not worked.

And yet, as I experienced last week, it’s important to fully face up to my mistakes so that I am providing an example for our children, helping them understand social and emotional situations and how to examine and repair them when things go wrong. A sincere apology also reestablishes a bond and a sense of trust that may be splintered when a child feels unjustly accused.

An article from Positive Parenting Solutions provides seven helpful steps to consider when apologizing to your child:

  1. Own your feelings and take responsibility for them.
  2. Connect the feeling to the action.
  3. Apologize for the action.
  4. Recognize your child’s feelings.
  5. Share how you plan to avoid this situation in the future.
  6. Ask for forgiveness.
  7. Focus on amends and solutions.

You can read more about these steps here:

Reflecting on what transpired with my daughter has helped me consider new strategies to employ both in my initial reaction to difficult situations as well as when I make a mistake. I hope that my process of apologizing and acknowledging my shortcomings will also help her. As the end of the article referenced above states:

“Kids who don’t experience much failure have trouble knowing what to do when problems do arise – they don’t have the confidence to take risks, they won’t courageously face their problems head-on or roll with the punches. In the long run, making mistakes and learning from them gives our kids more self-confidence and resiliency. And one way they can learn this is by watching their parents take responsibility for their own mistakes and learning from them.”