Parents strive to be the calm, firm and reliable figure of love and authority to their children. But, as all moms and dads know, slip ups are inevitable.
There are times when emotions get the better of a parent -- mom or dad yells and hurts a child’s feelings. Guilt immediately sets in afterward. But how often do you find yourself apologizing to your little one?
Saying sorry -- and meaning it -- to your child can feel awkward or even difficult. It feels like a sign of weakness, and parents sometimes fear that apologizing will lessen the child’s respect for mom or dad. According to psychologist and parenting expert, Dr. Laura Markham, that isn’t at all the case. “[Your child] still know who's boss,” she said in an article for Aha! Parenting, a parenting resource site she founded.
When a parent says sorry, a child learns a lot about owning up to mistakes. “When a parent apologizes to a child, it further cements the parent-child relationship and provides the child with a sense of safety and well-being,” said Kate Roberts, Ph.D., a consulting school psychologist and former professor of psychiatry at Brown University, in an article for Psychology Today.
“They are role modeling accountability. They are demonstrating that taking action to accept responsibility for a mistake is more important than the mistake itself,” Roberts added. “Parents’ ability to acknowledge mistakes and accept responsibility for actions is imperative in helping their children to do the same.”
Ready to say sorry to your little one the next time you make a mistake? Remember these tips:
1. Apologize for big things. If you burst out in anger at your child, feel free to take a moment to calm down. Step out of the scene to regain focus and control. “You want to model to your child how it is you can be upset and then calm down and resolve something,” Larry Koenig, Ph.D., a child behavior expert and best-selling author, told Fatherly.
Your child may still be upset or angry when you return so offer reassurances and hugs to help him calm down. Then, say something like, “We were all so upset, right? You were yelling. Then I started yelling. And you started crying. I'm sorry if I scared you...Yelling is no way to work something out with someone you love,” said Dr. Markham.
However, if you were yelling because you were trying to correct his behavior, make it clear that you’re still disciplining him and punishment may be meted (if you see fit). Remember, discipline is most effective when it's consistent.
2. Avoid making excuses and placing blame. Resist the urge to blame your child, for example, with something like, “I yelled, but you were just too much to handle!” As the adult, we know better -- we should take responsibility for our actions.
3. Say sorry for little things, too. “Apologize easily and often, including for small ‘oops’ moments that are not a big deal, but just part of life,” said Dr. Markham. Acknowledge it -- say sorry -- when you catch yourself interrupting her or not listening to your child when she’s talking to you. Say something like, “Oh, oops! I interrupted you, sorry. Go on.” You want to model the behavior you want to see in your child, so correct yourself when you model behavior that you don’t want her to copy.
There are times, however, when apologies aren’t necessary. Dr. Markham reminds parents to avoid apologizing for setting limits and rules like “I’m sorry, but you can’t eat ice cream before dinner."
4. Know that you’re becoming a better parent. “Being comfortable with asking for forgiveness and accepting responsibility allows people to challenge themselves and therefore grow from their actions,” said Roberts. It’s hard, but it helps both you and your child learn and grow.
“It takes courage to admit you were wrong and to ask for forgiveness. But it makes you a better parent, and it raises healthier children, who value relationships and can take responsibility,” said Dr. Markham.