Should parents apologise to their children?

by Pamela Madonsela
Baby Yum Yum - Should parents apologise to their children
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Growing up in a society that has never taught parents to deny their mistakes nor apologise to their children is challenging. Years later, parents can admit that saying sorry to their child is uncomfortable but necessary, especially if your parenting vision is to raise a generation that will understand the importance of apologising and owning up to their mistakes.

Professional social worker and parenting expert Joey Dlamini say it is important to apologise because parents are human and imperfect. “Despite our good intentions, we will sometimes hurt our kids,” Joey says. When we hurt our children, we should acknowledge our wrongs instead of dismissing their feelings. “Acknowledging your mistakes also removes the unrealistic pressure of being a perfect parent,” she adds. 

I grew up in a household where my mother never apologised to my siblings and me. We could never question that because she was the adult, and hers was the final word. That did not stop me from flipping the script with my kids. I apologise to my 4-year-old daughter after noticing that I have hurt her. What I realise is that she also does the same. She apologises to her brother and me when she has done something wrong. 

Parents need to teach their kids how to behave by modelling that same behaviour, and Dlamini attests to this. “You model the kind of relationship you want with your child because children are more likely to do what they see rather than what they hear from you, especially if your actions seem contradictory.” 

Should parents apologise to their children

Here are a few things Dlamini says to remember when apologising to kids

Feelings are valid

Apologising affirms your kids as they learn that their feelings are valid and worth being acknowledged. This is a great lesson to learn from an early age. They also learn that their parent’s feelings are valid too. They can be upset, but they can apologise for an outburst. 

Repair a potential harm

By apologising you can repair the harm that you might have caused which will help build trust between you and your child. Shouting at children does not do well for relationships. Even adults do not like hearing someone shout at them. The same principle applies to children. Shouting dysregulates children, and apologising may encourage connection again. 

Do not excuse the behaviour

When apologising to children, be mindful that you don’t excuse your behaviour or blame your child. The goal should be to model taking responsibility for your actions. E.g. instead of “I’m sorry for hurting you but you made me angry,” rather say, “I am sorry for hurting you. I know it was wrong of me to do it. When you do 123, I feel angry and I need to work on that.”

Use the sandwich method

When correcting your child, use the sandwich method. Start with a compliment, correct the action, and then conclude with another one. Brains are hardwired to start with negatives. When we sit our children down, they expect to be scolded. A complement may set the ground for the correction. 

Think of it as planting a garden. The first complement prepares the soil. You correct the behaviour by planting the seed and then finishing off with some seed maintenance. 

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