Imagine you just finished talking on the phone. You had a heated conversation with your boss. The talk took so long, leaving you annoyed and frustrated about everything. While thinking about how difficult and inconsiderate your boss is, you hear a loud bang from the other room, followed by loud laughs and more chaos. You suddenly conclude that your child and his friends have turned the entire house into their playground.
You race out trying to calm yourself but find an overflow of your favourite hair cream on the floor. Your anger builds, and you find yourself yelling at just everyone. You kept on yelling until you entered the room to see the kids in utter fear and sad faces, wondering why you blamed it all on them.
“The cat attacked us” – they cry.
Nobody is above mistakes, and you have to teach this to your children by acting it out. Sometimes bad things happen, then we point fingers, attacking, or defending ourselves. Only a few parents know the value of staying calm when their kid needs a sincere apology.
Researchers from Ohio State University in the USA have developed a 6-point plan for the perfect excuse based on studies. It consists of the elements such as regret, explaining, admitting, showing responsibility, offering reparation, and asking for forgiveness. However, the components are not equivalent. According to the researchers, the most important element is admitting guilt.
This article shows you how, when, and why to apologize to your child.
How To Apologize To Your Child
- Accept accountability for your feelings and how you express them.
- Show the link between how you feel and how you reacted.
- Give a sincere apology – specifically for the action.
- Pay attention to how your child feels.
- With care and understanding, share why and how everyone should avoid such circumstances afterwards.
- Ask your child to forgive you.
- Work on getting better
1. Accept accountability for your feelings and how you express them.
You should make your children see that feeling frustrated and angry about a situation is not wrong, but teach them that some ways we react to these feelings can be wrong. You do not want your kids to go around thinking that it is alright to shout and throw doors angrily. Remember that your kids are at the most susceptible periods of their lives. Events that happen around them have more hold on them – because of the plasticity of their developing brains (1).
2. Show the link between how you feel and how you reacted.
Experienced parents know that when kids have conflicts or disagreements, everyone involved will hold the opinion that they are merely doing what feels right to them. The child with the error has no clue of his or her ignorance, being deceived by external and internal factors.
Express your feelings and why you felt that way. Narrate your reaction – not blame anyone – but state the facts.
“I got frustrated over the phone and thought everyone was trashing the house.”
3. Give a sincere apology – Specifically for your behaviour.
Tell them why your behaviour is unacceptable. Make your kids understand. Your children will see that they cannot exhibit the same behaviour.
4. Pay attention to the feelings of your child.
Notice how they feel; afraid or hurt. When your child causes you to behave wrongly, make sure you remind them that your love for them is beyond their actions.
With care and understanding, narrate why and how everyone can avoid the same mistake afterwards. Use every occasion you get to teach your kids how to learn from their mistakes. This attitude will be advantageous to them as they grow older. You are more experienced and know that most kids do not fully understand the long-term implications of certain actions. Be specific about what you want to talk about.
5. Ask your child to forgive you.
As parents, we often insist that our child apologizes to a sibling, friend, or someone else when they are in the wrong, but when it’s our turn to apologize when we made a mistake, it becomes a challenge. We need to make it easier for them to do likewise by admitting to our mistakes. It is okay to ask for a hug and forgiveness from our kids; there is no need to make a big deal out of it. You can also make it fun.
6. Work on getting better
Getting better requires time and effort. It doesn’t happen too often to get better at something immediately. When you do your best to work on getting better, it will teach your child to respond more intuitively and do the right things. Your kids will learn to do the right things, not because of pressure, but because they understand.
Why Should You Apologize To Your Child?
We have all had those moments when we know we ought to apologize, but feel too shy to. Some parents believe it is a sign of weakness. The child adopts such an attitude which may affect his social life when he gets older.
1. You are their number one role-model
You probably know this, children look forward to impressing you. They seek your approval and despair at your disapproval. They try to copy you so they can feel like they are getting things right.
Imagine you observed a situation where a kid does something awful to another kid. After rebuking the offender, you ask him to apologize.
“NO!” – He says
You push and push until the child shouts out with annoyance: “Soooooorrry!”
You ask him to be nice about it; then he repeats the word in a less harsh tone. You then say “Good”.
You knew the apology came from the wrong place, but it became a matter of pride.
Most children who do not know how to say sorry have some unworthy misconception about it. Many children act the way they do because of how their parents behaved. Rather than letting a child believe an apology is a sign of weakness, they should feel like it is a sign of strength.
2. They should understand that no one is perfect.
Make them see that they always have to strive for perfection, understanding that no one is perfect. Apologizing to your child will let him or her know that you also make mistakes; you are not perfect. And when they make errors, they can forgive themselves too.
3. They become better people.
It is your job to prepare your child for the life ahead. Many adults have bad habits, and most spend many years trying to change themselves, how they behave and operate intuitively. Childhood is the best time to build solid characters for your children.
Your child also needs to know the value of accepting their mistakes and learning from them. Learning from the past is a skill one should have for social advantage. When your child mimics your method of apologizing and resolving issues, they express it in other areas of their life, especially with building and maintaining healthy relationships.
Keeping resentment for too long will only cause issues in a relationship. Emotions affect how we store memories (2). The more emotional an event is, the easier it is to remember. Sleeping helps our brain arrange memories (3). Therefore, it is psychologically unhealthy to let your children go to bed with resentment, anger or shame.
Although I am not saying that immediate apologies are the best, sometimes, the emotional difficulty and awkwardness of a situation can make sincere apologies look fake and inappropriate. A good deal of research has shown the reasons immediate apologies are the best. (4)
On the other side, many researchers have also come up with good reasons delayed apologies are the best (5)
Researchers who cherish immediate apologies do so for several reasons. They think people should apologize immediately; they notice their mistakes and explain themselves at the moment. Because after walking away from a heated conversation, most people continue thinking and forming negative associations about their offender.
Therefore, creating other hateful thoughts to justify their hurt feelings. These researchers believe honest explanations will numb negative thoughts and allow your accuser to consider that it may have been a total misunderstanding.
Other researchers think delayed apologies are the best. The sheer passage of time automatically reduces the feelings of frustration and anger. These emotions are a barrier to the sincere, unbiased communication needed to understand multiple perspectives.
Both situations work well if used in the right circumstances. Some people prefer saying sorry in the heated chaos with their children, walking out and staying away for a while, then coming back to apologize again, when the sea is calm. Whichever method you use, make sure you base it on the present situation.
What if your apology to your child does not work?
You may be completely honest and have the best intentions for your child while giving your apology and still get rejected. Events affect people differently. People will find you inconsiderate if they feel you think an apology is enough to fix everything. Apologies are not the ultimate solution to every relationship issue.
Sometimes, deeply emotionally hurt children carry grudges until they grow up. For example, some children secretly hate their mothers for many years for divorcing their father.
When your child refuses to accept an apology, it may be because it does not convince them you are sorry. Their disbelief may be because you have done the same wrong thing repeatedly in the past. Saying sorry always and making the same mistakes reduces the value of your promises. One way to fix this is to show your child how sorry you are – by actions – not just words.
Another reason your child may refuse to accept your apology is that you upset them about some other unresolved issue in the past. Fixing this will involve more communication. Make your child understand that most conflicts between people who care about each other come from misunderstanding the actions of other people. Show them you care about what they think of you and your trust.
What if you do not feel like saying sorry?
Saying sorry without dishonesty usually makes everything worse. The apology becomes obviously bland, and many people can see through it; this tremendously reduces personal trust and causes more resentment because of trying to deceive them.
Most parents are unwilling to say sorry to their child for several reasons:
- The fear of conflict
- The need to keep everyone around happy
- The need to make your child keep quiet
- Feelings of embarrassment and weaknesses
- The fear of being taken advantage of
- Expecting that your child should make the first move
- Fearing that you will keep getting reminded of your mistakes by admitting them.
- The fear of being called a hypocrite
- Choosing to hold the unfortunate belief that as a caretaker and provider, one should not have to explain himself.
If you do not feel like apologizing to your child after things went wrong, ask yourself why you feel such resistance not to apologize (even if you are right). Study your motives thoroughly and find out the cause of your resistance.
If you still do not want to apologize, you still have to address the cause of your behaviour and theirs if any. In the end, you want to make your child see Love and Peace as one of their highest-ranked values.
Should you apologize to your child when you are not at fault?
The answer to this question may depend on whether you view apologies as a sign of guilt or a sign of responsibility. Unsurprisingly, people need to assign blame when things go wrong.
Some children find it hard to accept blame for themselves. This attitude comes from a feeling of justification on their part. They think they are right; therefore, everyone else must be wrong.
As time goes on, you may notice this attitude from your child if they have different value systems from you. The values of your child affect the very core of how he or she behaves. To a large extent, our values determine what we consider being good or bad.
Understanding this process and working to install matching values with your child will provide a moral compass that you both share.
So there is no need to get upset over a child who refuses to apologize. The best move here is to educate them and always remember these things:
- For the relationship with your child, you do not always have to be right about everything.
- Even if you give up an argument for the sake of peace, you can still teach your child what they need to know to prevent future issues.
When you accept that you make mistakes and apologize for it, you are teaching your child essential qualities he or she will need in adulthood. One thing you should also remember is that everyone makes mistakes. Even if you think you are faultless in a particular situation, understand that your account of what happened is probably not the whole story.
Moreover, apologizing to your child can help you to feel better. Regret over hurting your child by word or action is a heavy load to carry, and you’ll lift that burden off your shoulder once you accept your mistake and apologize.
Photo: ©Getty Images