Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Every parent makes mistakes. Sometimes you might be wrong about something that’s so obvious and significant, you feel you need to apologise to your child.
For instance, you might feel bad because you severely punished her for doodling on her bedroom wall, only to discover the next day that it was her elder brother who was the culprit. Or maybe your child misbehaved at the supermarket and you feel guilty because you lost your temper and shouted at her.
Related: Keeping your temper in control
On such occasions, you may be tempted to apologise, but are reluctant to do so because you feel a parent should never have to say sorry to her kid.
Opinions vary about this. Some parents feel it’s not necessary. Although you may feel bad about what you did yesterday and didn’t sleep well last night thinking about it, your child may have forgotten the matter already. So the impact of your behaviour on your kid may be much less than you imagined.
Nevertheless, think carefully about the incident that troubles you and try to see it from her perspective before you apologise. It needs to makes sense to her or it will have no effect.
But if you say sorry too often to your child, she’ll begin to have doubts about your ability as a parent. She’ll start to worry that you get too many things wrong and she may even start to feel insecure. Your child assumes that you know what’s best and that you don’t make mistakes. Apologies also lose their effect when issued too often, and she’ll begin to take advantage of you.
JUST SAY IT?
There are parents who have no qualms about saying “I’m sorry”. If you do utter these words to your child for something you regret having done, it sets a good example that she can follow when she needs to make an apology. It lets her see that saying sorry isn’t just something that kids should do. There surely can’t be anything wrong with that.
Offering an apology doesn’t only take the tension out of a confrontation, it can also strengthen the relationship. Your words demonstrate to your child that you think deeply about her, that you don’t like upsetting her and that you’re prepared to admit your mistakes. As a result, her trust in you can increase and she may feel more relaxed in your company.
So it’s a judgement call. Chances are, the potential psychological benefits outweigh any potential drawback. Besides, if you’re clearly in the wrong and your child sees that you don’t offer an apology, her resentment is likely to build. She’ll be more resistant about apologising in the future.
When you decide to say sorry to her, sit her down so that she faces you. Explain why you want to apologise, what you’d do differently the next time – and finish with a hug. Then forget about it and move on.
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