So you’ve messed up. You’ve said something you shouldn’t. You’ve done something that you are not proud of. You are not alone. We all have these moments as parents. The question is, “What now?” For starters, seize the moment. Use these situations as opportunities to model humility and repentance – virtues we all want our children to possess. At the same time, we need to approach it in a way that balances both our place as an authority figure and our sober judgment regarding our own humanness. Here are some tips that may help you find that balance.
After an incident about which you have some regret, take some time to really assess the situation before you decide to apologize to your child. Ask yourself, “What were the triggers for my reaction?” “Was I responding in the moment or were there other issues that clouded my judgment?” “Are my feelings of regret rooted in this situation or something else?” This type of self-reflection will provide you with valuable information that will direct you in what you do next.
If, after this self-reflection, you deem that an apology is necessary, decide what you will say to your child and rehearse it if necessary. Find a quiet, private moment, take your child aside and make your statement. It can be as simple as, “I made a bad choice in how I handled that situation. I am truly sorry and I ask your forgiveness.” You can even add some thoughts on how you plan to handle the situation differently in the future. Resist the temptation to justify, rationalize or otherwise explain away your mistake. It will deflate your apology and make it seem insincere. If you want children who are truly repentant, then model true repentance yourself. You may find that with this type of apology, your child will quickly assert his or her fault as a contributor anyway (if they were) without you needing to point it out. Also, don’t over do it. Too much emotion over the issue can be unsettling to some children who are accustomed to seeing their parents as the grounding force in their lives.
Apologizing to teens can be particularly difficult, especially if you feel you are struggling to hold on to what little shred of respect you think they have for you. Despite this fear, apologies (that are true and genuine – not manipulative in order to illicit an apology from them) are essential in maintaining open lines of communication with your teen. They will shut you down and dismiss any advice you may give if you seek to maintain an image of perfection. Teens are quick to erect walls (in fact, this is their job – developmentally they are trying to separate from you). But these walls can leave you scrambling to find a way in. Trying to break them down or blast through them with lectures and demands will do you no good. Standing humbly at the door and knocking can do wonders if you were in the wrong. You will not appear weaker to them if you admit your faults. Rather, you will become an ally and resource for them – something they will desperately need as they navigate through those tumultuous years.