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The power of apology: When should parents apologize to their children and why it’s important

Amrita Gracias Amrita Gracias 6 Mins Read

Amrita Gracias Amrita Gracias


Have you ever contemplated apologising to your child? Should you at all? Read on to find out the answer to your dilemma.

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The power of apology:  When should parents apologize to their children and why it’s important

You must have told your child umpteen times to apologize whenever he did something wrong. And, at times, you would have considered apologizing to your child after having wronged her. But, the next moment you wonder if it is a good idea at all. So, what held you back from apologizing to your child?

Let's delve a little deeper into the issue to understand it better and find the answer to the question, 'Should parents apologize to their kids?'

What is an apology and why is it important to apologize?

Humans arent perfect, and all of us, at times, say or do something hurtful. An apology is all about acknowledging our mistake, asking for forgiveness, and assuring that we won't repeat our mistake.

Offering a sincere apology conveys the fact that we recognize and accept our mistake, and feel sorry for it. It also helps to mend the relationship and establish the fact that we care for and empathize with the individual we have wronged.

Why some people find it hard to apologize

Some individuals are uncomfortable with tendering an apology. This could be for various reasons such as not wanting to admit they were wrong, not wanting to accept the responsibility, or feeling embarrassed.

"Parents find it difficult to apologize as ego often comes in the way," says Aparna Samuel Balasundaram. "They also feel that the child might take advantage of the situation. In fact, for autocratic parents, apologizing to the child is unthinkable," she explains.

When you should apologize to your child

Parents do owe their children an apology at times. For instance, saying things in anger hurts or scars a child emotionally. According to Ms. Aparna, "When you say something in a fit of anger, it does not come from a loving space. Even your body language and tone can seem threatening. This could result in shaming the child and making him feel small. Therefore, parents would do well to recognize this anger."

Another instance when you should apologize to your child is if you hit or physically punish her. For, if you don't apologize after such an act, your child may begin to think that these behaviors are acceptable when they really aren't. "The child might repeat these actions himself, or there is also the possibility of allowing himself to be bullied or hit outside the home," Ms. Aparna points out. "However, it is okay if you jerk your child or assert to him loudly when he is in imminent danger, like when he puts his hands into an electrical socket, for instance," she adds.

Interestingly, there are instances when you don't need to apologize to your child at all. For example, you shouldn't apologize when your child is trying to bargain - putting down conditions and you stand firm. "She must realize that she cannot hold you captive in situations like these," says Ms. Aparna. "Don't apologize for issues like not buying her unnecessary things that you can't or won't, not going on an expensive vacation, or throwing her a fancy party," she suggests.

How to apologize to your child

  • Apologize without giving excuses: Avoid playing the blame game or giving excuses to justify your actions. Make your child understand that it was an unintentional act on your part, and keep your apology simple and sincere by taking responsibility for your action. "There is no shame in realizing your mistakes and learning from them," Ms. Aparna says. "And, your child also learns that her parents are not perfect and they can make mistakes as well," she adds.
  • Explain the situation: More often than not, we yell at our children without a good reason when we are stressed or frustrated. These instances undoubtedly call for an apology. Explain to your child that you lost your temper because you were stressed about something. Tell her what stressed you out, that it is no excuse for losing your temper, and that you will try not to repeat what happened.
  • Recognize your child's feelings: Let your child understand that you know how he feels after you hurt him. Doing so would help your child learn to identify emotions and empathize with others when he makes a mistake or hurts someone. He will be more willing to apologize and take responsibility for his actions or words. "This way your child learns an important life lesson of respecting others and the skill of conflict resolution," says Ms. Aparna.
  • Ask your child for forgiveness: Just asking your child "Can you forgive me?" goes a long way when apologizing. By apologizing and asking for forgiveness, you are encouraging your child to let go of the hurt and resentment she feels. However, don't pressurize your child to forgive you. Instead, try to resolve the conflict and the bitterness that has crept into her. Talk about the situation calmly and patiently.

Points to remember when apologizing

  • Apologizing is not bribing: You don't need to pacify your child with a gift when you want to say sorry. This is a wrong approach and your child will fail to understand the real meaning of an apology. Don't be tempted to buy your forgiveness with gifts or do something that you otherwise wouldn't do to make up for what has happened, Ms. Aparna suggests. Apologizing helps both the wrongdoer and the wronged reconnect emotionally; so, an apology should never be replaced with a bribe or something materialistic.
  • Apologizing does not take away your authority: Apologizing to your child does not mean that you are undermining your position or are no longer in control. Rather, understand that it is the right thing to do and that it would teach your child the value of the dignity of human beings. Your child comes to understand that even though you are in a position of authority you cannot abuse your power. So, he learns that he cannot use his authority over other people, for instance, the help at home, Ms. Aparna explains.

A genuine apology from a parent is always a learning experience for children. The parent models for their children how to make an apology, and to take responsibility for their actions. The ability to apologize helps a child maintain relationships as well as repair a broken relationship.

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