How to Apologize to Your Child – and teach them a better ‘I’m Sorry’ in the process

“I'm sorry for yanking the tablet out of your hands this morning.” I said.

We were starting the day with an apology from me to my 8 year old. Well, actually it started with the argument before the apology, and the tension that comes with a morning filled with an angry child and a mom using all of her energy to smooth out the rest of the few minutes we have together and get all of us out the door.

I had managed to make it out the door and now we were driving to summer camp, and having calmed down from my initial fury I was making an apology using the format I've learned recently from Susan Stiffelman's book [easyazon_link identifier=”1608683265″ locale=”US” tag=”snglbkpost-20″]Parenting With Presence[/easyazon_link]. (Links to the book are amazon affiliate links.)

learning how to apologize to my kids

I hate the moments I slip into over-the-top reactions or yelling, but I felt like at least I have a good format for truly making an apology. I didn't feel proud of how I handled the tablet incident, but I it helped to get back on track at being the leader of my children by modeling what I want them to do if they do something they regret.

I couldn't go back and change my behavior, but I could model a decent apology.

I continued with the rest of the apology:

“I'm sorry for yanking the tablet out of your hands this morning. I imagine that felt very invasive to you.”

“Yes! It did! That was really mean!” came his voice from the back of the car – I think I heard a bit of relief in it too that I was thinking about he might have felt.

“In the future I will make my expectations more clear ahead of time, and I will use words to ask for what I want you to do instead of grabbing. Is there anything else you need from me?”

Mama, just don't do that again, ok?

And with that our tension evaporated. We talked about what he would be doing at summer camp. We planned for the afternoon. Our connection was restored.

The framework  for making an apology that you can see above in my words goes like this:

  • I'm sorry for___________ (The trick is just saying it without giving any explanation or justification. I could have gone into how he shouldn't have snuck the tablet into his room. I could have said he should have been getting ready. But the truth was, I was apologizing for being grabby, and one of the phrases I tell my kids is that someone else's bad behavior is no excuse for your own. Explaining away my behavior would have taken away the validity of my apology.)
  • I imagine that you felt__________ (Compassion arises from understanding, so I took a second to imagine what he may have felt. I know I would feel attacked and invaded if someone yanked something away from me, so I tried out seeing if that was the emotion he felt. I could have gotten this part wrong, and he likely would tell me what he was feeling instead.)
  • In the future I will _________
    Note – when you are apologizing for yelling or other habitual behavior on your part, this is an opportunity to really work on changing your brain's ‘wiring' for the future. Instead of “In the future I will not yell at you.”  focus on the specific incident – how could you have handled it better instead of yelling/hitting/other poor reaction? What was going on with you that resulted in the bad reaction?

    • In the future I will work on getting better sleep so that I am not so likely to yell.
    • In the future I will look at my calendar in the morning so I'm not rushing you as much at the last minute.
    • In the future I will hang up a chart so we all know what is expected of kids before bedtime.Focus on what you CAN do – an actual action. Yes, this takes time to reflect. Yes, your child may not actually understand what it is you'll do – you may even simplify whatever you say out loud to them, but take the time to yourself to think about what you could do with the same situation in the future and you will begin progressing away from poor reactions and towards healthier responses.

And finally:

  • Is there anything you need from me? (Or, “How can I make amends?”)

It's not as if I haven't offered a heartfelt ‘I'm sorry' before. Oh man, I've had a lot of opportunities to apologize – the language of forgiveness and making amends is already a part of our family language. However, since I began using the format that Susan Stieffelman offers in [easyazon_link identifier=”1608683265″ locale=”US” tag=”snglbkpost-20″]Parenting With Presence[/easyazon_link], I've seen a big increase in good communication in our household, not just with the kids, but with my husband as well.

When we think through what the other person is feeling and voice that to them, it opens us up to really listen. It can be scary to not defend ourselves, but once we're vulnerable we're ready to really connect with the other person, and from that point of connection comes all the good stuff.

How about you? How do apologies go in your household? Does it ever feel scary and vulnerable to apologize?