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How Do I Apologize to My Children?

Laura Kuehn, LCSW
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

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?”

Here are some tips:

Assess

It’s important to look for patterns of triggers.

Ask yourself, “What were the triggers for my reaction?” “Was I responding in the moment or were there other issues that clouded my judgment?” “Do I have unresolved hurt or anger that cause me to react in an extreme way?” Understanding yourself and what fuels your anger can help you address the root cause and break patterns of behavior. You may find that you need help in this area and individual or parent counseling might be a good next step.

Apologize

You may want to rehearse what you plan to say to your child, especially if apologizing does not come easy for you. Once you can put words to what you are thinking, find a quiet, private moment, take your child aside and make your apology. 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.

Apologizing to teens

This 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.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed therapist who offers individual and parent counseling to individuals in Connecticut. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of her favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She is happily married with a young adult son and a teenage daughter.

3 Comments

  • Parents make mistakes too, I apologised to my 14 year old daughter today it was very hard but it felt good in my heart I am very happy I did it and I know that my daugther genuenly accepted my apology, we hugged and kissed and agreed to work together. Thank you for this article.

    • Hi Reyna – It’s amazing what a two little words can do, isn’t it? I am glad that you were able to reach out to your daughter in this way and that you have already seen such great fruit from it. Thanks for commenting – it was nice to hear from you.

      Many blessings,
      Laura

  • Thank you, Laura,
    Teens are willing to open “doors” when they sense a genuineness in your relationship. When we try to batter our way in, the walls get sturdier. We crack open the door with humility and honesty.

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