By: Misty Boucher
This year for Mother’s Day my daughter presented me with a handmade jar bearing the following words, “I love you because…” Inside the jar, there were 365 handwritten cards with sweet statements that completed the sentence. They said things like, “you make me my lunch for school” and “you make me laugh.” As I read through each thoughtfully written card, I came across one that gave me pause, “you always apologize when you make a mistake.” It stood out to me because I never considered this to be something my daughter thought of as important. I decided to go straight to the source and hopefully gain some insight.
In talking with my daughter, I learned that from her perspective most adults don’t apologize when they are wrong. So, she took note whenever she bore witness to an adult fessing up to their mistakes. In thinking about this more, I remembered a recent incident in which I snapped at her for not walking the dogs at the time I had asked. I made an off-hand comment about her being irresponsible. The truth is, she is incredibly responsible and hardly ever forgets to do what is asked of her. I later apologized and explained that I was feeling overwhelmed with my own to-do list. I reiterated how much I appreciated her and calling her irresponsible was a mistake. We hugged and I asked her for forgiveness. It is not uncommon for me to recognize when I hurt one of my daughters and I am usually quick to apologize. This did not come easily to me when my children were younger, but it was something I implemented because of my own experiences as a child. With that being said, I know some parents struggle with apologizing to their kids. I wondered why?
In talking with my peers, I learned some adults think apologizing to a child will somehow undermine their authority. They assume their child may view them as “less in charge.” From my experience, apologizing doesn’t mean you are relinquishing power, but rather you gain credibility with your child. In taking accountability you are teaching a child that mistakes are ok. It shows them an apology creates an opportunity for repair and reconnection. It can also allow kids to feel heard, understood, and validated. It can provide an opportunity for them to bear witness to the act of forgiveness. So, what does a good apology look and sound like?
Here are the five important A’s to remember when apologizing to a child:
Accept responsibility: As a parent owning up to a mistake can make us feel vulnerable or “weak.” In reality, acknowledging and accepting responsibility for our actions is a testament to our strength. We are empowering our children by recognizing their right to be treated properly.
Avoid excuses: It’s ok to explain what happened and how you were feeling. Explaining what caused you to act a certain way humanizes you and lets kids know that mistakes are made by people of all ages.
Acknowledge: Validating their feelings helps build confidence and can foster positive self-esteem.
Apologize: A sincere apology that includes “I am sorry” is powerful. It is also important to point out the specific action of yours that was inappropriate.
Ask for forgiveness: Asking for forgiveness helps the child understand the process of amends and includes acceptance from the person who is wronged.
At times, apologizing to my daughters and admitting to my own shortcomings has felt difficult. But, I recognize modeling a good apology clearly and concisely is necessary to teach children how to make amends when they hurt someone. And after learning that my daughter loves me because I always apologize when I make a mistake makes the process both easier and necessary.
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