Should we say sorry to our children?

Children need to hear true apologies to learn how to give true apologies

I was recently asked what my position on saying sorry to children was.

Personally, I say sorry to my children on a regular basis.  I do this because like every parent, I make mistakes.  I still say and do things I regret and wish to make amends for.  Most recently, I did it yesterday at dinner.

Often I apologise when I put them to bed.  By bedtime, if we’ve had a “situation” during the day when I acted out of my lower brain, I’ll have had enough time to completely calm down and review the situation using my whole brain and recognise what I might have done differently.

I find that the more I make amends for my hurtful mistakes, the less I make them.  There’s nothing quite like taking responsibility for your bad behaviour to provide you with real impetus to change it!

Alfie Kohn in his book Unconditional Parenting recommends apologising around twice a month to your kids (p.126).  He admits this is arbitrary but excuses it on grounds that most other parenting advice he reads is arbitrary.

Why be arbitrary about it?  Apologies are for when you recognise that you have made a mistake, particularly one that has caused hurt to another human being.  Our feelings of guilt, remorse and regret are usually a good sign that we may have something to apologise for.

I want to make it clear however, that I am not advocating apologising to our children to alleviate our guilt.  That is not the right motive for making amends.

Making amends is an important part of how we connect with our children honestly, openly and vulnerably.  Making amends can include an outright apology, some expression of regret, acknowledgement of the wrong done or hurt caused, maybe a request for forgiveness, and importantly, a commitment to actually amend our behaviour going forward.

Making amends in this way, rather than merely apologising, strengthens our relationship with our children.  It is a crucial part of restoring the relationship after “big” mistakes.  Without appropriate amends after bad behaviour the relationship will not truly survive in the long run.

Making an apology is respectful.  It is taking ownership of bad behaviour and making a commitment to change it.

These are things we try to teach our children.

And the best way to teach a child to be honest, to be respectful, to be responsible, and to say sorry when they hurt another person, is to demonstrate these principles in our own life.  Not just occasionally.  Not according to some arbitrary criteria.  But rather whenever and wherever they are called for.

Should parents apologise to their children?  My answer is an unequivocal yes.  How often should you do so?  As often as your behaviour requires it.

Let your heart guide you.

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