Parenting

I Apologize To My Children — And You Should Too

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My son woke up at 6:00am today, my daughter at 7:00, and by 9:30am, I was yelling. Vulgarities were flying carelessly from my lips, and tears were streaming down my oldest’s face. She was upset by the context of our dispute and my response. And while the details don’t matter — I don’t and won’t make excuses for my (piss poor) behavior — I was frustrated, as was she. We currently have about 18 stressors in our home. It’s like a three-ring circus. The insanity never ends. But I did my best today, as I do every day. I walked away, and we separated for a few minutes before coming together to reconnect and talk, and when we did, the first words out of my mouth were “I’m sorry.”

I apologized for my actions.

I apologized for my inappropriate behavior. Why? Because I was wrong, and it’s important she knows that people, even as adults, are fallible. Moms and dads make mistakes. Because it’s important that she understands the full range of human emotions and how she should (and shouldn’t) respond. Because it’s important my daughter understands how to be accountable — and why it matters — and because it’s important that she feels seen and validated. I want her to know she is heard and understood.

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“This may be quite obvious to some, but the best way to teach your kids how you’d like them to behave is to behave that way yourself,” pediatrician and child care educator Steve Silvestro writes. “When you’ve made a mistake or upset your child in some way, taking the time sit down and apologize teaches your child both that it’s important and how to do it. It normalizes apologizing — showing your kids that even you apologize when you’re wrong makes it less taboo of an act for them. And thoughtfully apologizing on your own volition shows your kids that it’s more than reluctantly saying ‘I’m sorry’ when forced to by an adult, but instead an honest, heartfelt act built out of caring for the other person.”

“The words you use, the tone you set, the meaning you put behind the act — these teach your children the value of apologizing and the right way to do it,” Silvestro adds. It’s important.

Of course, it’s hard to apologize — particularly to children. Littles ones are told they should respect their elders. We have the “power” and the upper hand. Children are also taught to listen. How many times have you said (or heard) the words “because I said so?” A lot, right? Because that’s how many of us were raised. Parents were all-knowing. We simply did as we were told. But what if we taught our children instead of commanded them? What if we lead by example, not law? And what if we embraced our vulnerability? What if we embraced the fact we are faulty and imperfect and showed our children how they too could do the same?

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Apologizing to children teaches them compassion and benevolence. We all make mistakes, but we can try to make things right. Saying “I’m sorry” is an act of humility. It can make another person feel better, and it proves there is no shame in apologizing. It is a superpower. A strength. The most powerful people will admit to their weakness, flaws, faults, and/or when they are wrong. It also helps children better understand and regulate their own emotions, especially when apologies are detailed and lengthy.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you this morning. I was frustrated with work and took it out on you, but that doesn’t make my words right. It doesn’t mean my actions were correct.” When we apologize, we also (indirectly) teach our children about grace. We all make mistakes but we must learn to accept them and forgive ourselves.

“Saying you’re sorry isn’t always easy — in fact, it rarely is,” Silvestro says. “It doesn’t come naturally to many of us. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. And that’s exactly why it’s so important. The biggest gains in life come through overcoming adversity. Relationships are strengthened when discord is repaired, not ignored.” And while most of us would prefer to navigate life without said discomfort, there is power in apologies.

So while it is easy for us to scream and yell and rule with an iron fist — parenting with compassion is impressive. Parenting with generosity is gracious, and parenting with humanity and humility is powerful and life-changing. Leading by example (and apologizing) teaches our children more than we will ever know.

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