Making Amends and Apologizing to Your Child
I often find myself apologizing to our daughter.
I truly believe the majority of parents do the best they can each day, based on the information they have, and the situations they find themselves in. This includes me, and yet I still often find myself apologizing to our daughter. It’s not that I’m an awful parent, it’s just that I’m human, and I make mistakes.
When my husband and I were expecting, I thought I’d be a pretty good parent — I mean, I was an experienced child and family social worker, I went to all our antenatal classes, and I had lots of support around me. Boy, was I in for a surprise!
Our daughter was the most beautiful baby ever born, but right from the beginning she was also strong-willed, full of energy, and she 100 percent believed that “sleep was for losers.”
It took a long time for me to really accept our daughter for exactly who she is, and to learn to parent her in the ways that she needs.
All of this means that despite my best intentions, I don’t always get it right, and sometimes I get it really wrong. The thing is, although it might seem counterintuitive, all of this has actually made me a better parent, and also a better social worker.
By not conforming to my expectations, our daughter has taught me so many lessons, but most of all she has taught me humility — I don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay. My willingness to now accept that I don’t have all the answers, and that I make mistakes along the way, means that I’m learning every day, and our daughter is also learning from me.
Some of the life lessons our daughter has been exposed to so far include:
- Life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect
- There’s always a lot to learn
- Even parents make mistakes
- Sometimes we hurt other people, and
- Making amends can be hard, but it’s the right thing to do.
My husband and I have many of the same hopes and dreams as other parents, for example, that our daughter will be happy, that she’ll do well in school, and that she’ll meet someone special and share her life with them. However, we also hope that she’ll learn to appreciate beauty and kindness, that she’ll care for and be compassionate towards others, and that she’ll be both resilient and humble when necessary.
I’m acutely aware of our influence as parents, and in particular that our daughter learns far more from what we do, than from what we say. With this in mind, I’ve made an effort over the years to share my mistakes and learnings with her (where appropriate), and to model the process of making amends.
So how does a parent go about making amends with a child?
Basically, like much of parenting, it’s about placing yourself in your child’s shoes and treating them similarly to how you would like to be treated, and often that begins with an apology.
There are many ways to apologize, but here’s how I usually do it (and I’ve had a fair bit of practice):
- Get down to your child’s level and look them in the eye (if that’s okay with them)
- Tell them you’re sorry, and specifically what it is you’re sorry for
- Resist the urge to defend your actions by adding a “but” into the apology (see below)
- Commit to changing your behaviour in the future, and
- Consider asking for forgiveness.
Here’s an example of how I once apologized to our daughter:
“I’m really sorry I shouted at you before, it must’ve been scary. I was feeling angry, but it’s not okay for me to be like that. I’m going to try to stop shouting, and start taking some breaths when I feel myself getting angry. Can you forgive me for shouting at you today?”
I don’t think all of the steps above are necessary all of the time, sometimes a short apology is enough, for example:
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to step on your foot, are you okay?”
In terms of my own parenting, the biggest change I’ve made in this area, compared with how I was parented, is the conscious decision to not add a “but” into the apology. For example:
“I’m sorry I got so mad with you, BUT, if you would just stop fighting with your brother …”
Apologies are about taking responsibility for your actions, not placing the blame on to someone else. In the case of children, if they contributed to the situation, then their behavior can be talked about later on — but let your apology stand alone as example of what to do when you’ve behaved poorly and you want to make amends.
A good apology can do wonders for a relationship, is an effect way to begin making amends, and it’s also great role modeling for our children. Wouldn’t it be lovely if it was just normal practice for everyone to apologize and try to make amends when they hurt someone … that’s the kind of future we want our daughter to be part of.
Yates, B. (2018). Making Amends and Apologizing to Your Child. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/making-amends-and-apologizing-to-your-child/