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When To Apologize To Your Children | Fixing Parenting Mistakes

ages 11 years - 18 years ages 5 years - 11 years ages 6 months - 5 years apology check yourself learning relationships Sep 27, 2023

Parenting is a journey filled with ups and downs, and it's only natural for parents to make mistakes along the way.  The day-to-day reality of raising young children tends to be a bit more stressful than the idyllic scenes that come to mind when you envision children happily playing together or calmly reading with their parents.  One common mistake parents may find themselves making in stressful moments is raising their voices in frustration.  It can catch you off guard; you may be someone who never, ever yells, and yet, somehow, that tiny tot can bring out a hidden yeller in you.  Look for more posts coming soon on how to keep that “Angry Mom/Dad” reaction in check.  Today, we’ll focus on what to do after you make a mistake with your child.  What sets great parents apart is their ability to recognize their mistakes and take responsibility for them.  Parental apologies are a key component of the Check Yourself category in my 5 C’s parenting framework (see The 5 C’s to Amazing Parenting).  Read on to explore the importance of apologizing to your kids after making a mistake, how it helps to maintain a strong parent-child connection, and how it aligns with Albert Bandura's social learning theory.


Acknowledging Imperfection

Let’s acknowledge again that it’s okay to make mistakes.  Nobody is perfect, including parents.  We may have moments of frustration, stress, or exhaustion that can lead to raised voices or harsh words.  We all have moments where we may say or do things we regret.  These moments do not define us as parents.  They don’t mean you’re a terrible parent.  By acknowledging our imperfections, we can approach our mistakes with compassion and understanding.

By accepting this reality, we can create a more forgiving and understanding environment for ourselves and our children.  I wouldn’t want my children to feel like they have to be perfect all the time.  Imagine how stressful that would be for them.  Let’s own the fact that we aren’t perfect and, instead, work on minimizing the number of mistakes we make by planning ahead, using problem-solving skills, and keeping up with our self-care to increase our patience.  When mistakes do happen, apologizing to our kids demonstrates humility and teaches them that it's okay to make mistakes as long as we take responsibility for them.


Start to Make Amends

Apologies offer a chance to start making amends.  When we apologize to our kids, we show them that we genuinely care about their feelings and our relationship with them.  There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the words “I’m sorry” in an apology, but I suggest using a different strategy called Acknowledge & Amends.  In our family, your apology may or may not include the words “I’m sorry.” Instead, the key elements are:

1) Acknowledge what happened and your role in the incident.  For example, “I should not have raised my voice when I saw the mess you had made,” or, “I should not have touched you that roughly.”  It can make you feel really bad putting words to these actions, but the fact is, they happened, and not talking about them can’t take that away.  But talking about them can help minimize the consequences of the mistake. 

2) Begin to make amends.  Your child is unlikely to feel instantly better after you check in with them, but there are things you can offer to start down the road to recovering from the incident.  For example, you might offer to help clean up a mess, offer a hug if they would like that, or offer to spend some quality time together reading a book or playing a game when they feel ready.  Sometimes, kids need a little space before they warm up again to a parent who has made a mistake. 

Apologizing using my Acknowledge & Amends technique involves accepting responsibility for our actions, acknowledging the harm we caused, and our commitment to making amends.  By doing so, we open the door for healing and restoration in our parent-child relationship.


Modeling the Behavior of Apologizing  

Apologizing to our kids provides an opportunity to model the behavior of apologizing.  Many of our parental teaching moments involve telling our children information, but according to Albert Bandura's social learning theory, children also learn through observation and imitation.  Children are constantly observing and learning from their surroundings.  As parents, we have a unique opportunity to shape their understanding of empathy, accountability, and forgiveness.  When our kids witness us apologizing for our mistakes, they learn that it’s okay to admit when they are wrong and to seek forgiveness.  They understand apologies are not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of strength and maturity.

By demonstrating the act of apologizing, we teach our children the importance of taking responsibility for their actions and the value of making amends.  You’re not overtly saying, “Hey, I’m apologizing to you because that’s what we do when we make mistakes.”  Rather, you’re living proof of how people should act after they make a mistake.  This indirect form of teaching can be just as powerful, if not more, than direct instruction.


Strengthening the Parent-Child Connection

Apologizing to our kids helps to foster trust, respect, and open communication.  When children see that their parents are willing to admit their mistakes and try to make things right again, it creates a safe space for them to express their own emotions and learn from their own errors.  It also keeps the lines of communication open.  That may translate into your young child telling you about the ants that are gathering in the car because they left an open candy wrapper inside, and it may translate into them telling you about bigger mistakes they make when they’re older.  It’s far better to hear about these issues from them early on before they become a real problem.  Apologies become a bridge that strengthens the bond between parent and child.

Maintaining a strong parent-child connection is crucial for a healthy and nurturing family environment.  Of course, the ideal scenario would be never losing your cool with your child, but given that you’re human, simply do your best to be calm and kind as much of the time as possible and focus on apologizing when you have occasional slip-ups.  Apologizing to our kids helps rebuild trust and resilience within our parent-child relationship.  It can turn an ugly situation into a learning and bonding moment.  When we take responsibility for our actions, we show our kids that we value their feelings and opinions.  This validation creates a sense of security and trust, allowing our children to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and emotions with us.  It also teaches them the importance of forgiveness and the ability to bounce back from difficult situations.


Take-Home Message

In the journey of parenting, mistakes are inevitable.  However, what truly matters is how we handle those mistakes and the lessons we teach our children through our actions.  Apologizing to our kids after making a mistake, such as raising our voices, is a powerful way to model accountability, empathy, and the importance of maintaining strong relationships.  By embracing Albert Bandura's social learning theory, we can teach our children through observation and create a positive and nurturing environment for their growth and development.  An apology using my Acknowledge & Amends technique has the power to heal, strengthen, and deepen the parent-child connection but also inspire our children to become compassionate and accountable individuals.  Try it out this week if you have an imperfect moment in your parenting.

Apologizing to your children when you make parenting mistakes is part of the Check yourself category of my 5 C’s parenting framework (see The 5 C’s to Amazing Parenting).  To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen.  Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!

P.S.  To learn more about my 5 C’s framework and add more psychology-based tools to your parenting toolkit, check out my free parenting Bootcamps. Find a Bootcamp specific to your child’s age here

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