Every parent is on a journey of figuring out their children and family dynamics. Sometimes it’s frustrating. We insist on children apologizing to siblings, friends and adults but when we as the adult or parent mess up, we feel uncomfortable apologising.
We often have the generational idea that adults know best all the time, and that apologising to children means we will be less respected. This is not true. Children learn through others – when we set the example for them, they follow our lead. This way, showing them how we own up to our mistakes, and are able to apologise, they will learn the importance of apologizing to others.
If children see their parents, or adults in their lives, uncomfortable with apologising they will grow to associate apologising with something shameful. Not apologising gives the impression that if you do, it means you’ve done something bad – or that you are bad – and will lose status. Saying or doing something to a child that is hurtful, will leave them feeling insecure about themselves. Dr Silvestro wrote in his article ‘The Power of Apologizing to your Kids’ that the words you use, the tone you set, and the meaning you put behind an act teach children the values behind apologising. If a child is upset by something, reprimanding them will make them feel guilty and ashamed – this will affect them as they grow into adults.
Being the literal ‘bigger’ person
The importance in apologising to children comes with teaching them to be respectful, understanding and cooperative with others – no matter who they are. Apologising to children may seem uncomfortable, since they are the ‘smaller’ person, but it teaches them that mistakes are a part of life as a human. When they remember receiving an apology from a parent, older family member or other influential adult, they will feel more comfortable admitting their own mistakes and apologising to others. Opening up to your own mistakes will allow a platform for children to approach and trust you in the future. There is no shame in apologising to a child just because you may have more years on your lifespan – children are still human beings.
How to apologise to children
Apologising to children can be a little more tricky than apologising to a grown person, but the essence is the same – owning up and taking responsibility. Obviously, disciplinary action should not warrant an apology if boundaries or set limits have been crossed. Knowing when and how to apologise is different for everyone, but important nonetheless:
- If the child is obviously hurt, acknowledge it, even if you don’t think it’s a big deal.
- Describe the situation and how it affected everyone – recognise and own up to everyone’s feelings
- Resist the urge to blame. As adults we lead by example, so excusing yourself for hurting a child does not resolve the problem.
- Be open to hearing both sides of the story, and accept how you have made the child feel.
- Model accountability by taking responsibility. This will help children to step up and apologise too.
- Mutually make a plan with the child to repair the situation and future ones too.
- Give children space to forgive – do not force a child to be ‘okay’ as soon as you apologise.
Focusing on making things better with children when faced with conflict will encourage children to also recognise their own shortcomings. It may be tough, but it raises emotionally healthier children who are able to take responsibility and not feel ashamed to make mistakes.
Words: Saadiqah Schroeder