Parents often feel trapped by these situations. Everyone makes mistakes, even parents, and everyone needs to apologize once in a while – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it helps the person doing the apologizing move on, too. But it seems trickier when a parent needs to say, “I’m sorry.” They know they’re wrong, but they’re afraid that their children will think less of them if they realize that Mom or Dad can be wrong.
Let’s set those parents at ease — your kids already know that you can be wrong. They’ve seen it plenty of times before, and they know that they’ll see it again.
What makes the apology important is that you’re role-modeling how to handle such a situation for your children. Remember the old phrase: they may not always listen to what you say, but they’re always watching what you do. If you’d like your children to be accountable and take responsibility for what they do, there’s no better way to teach them than to model it yourself.
The basics of apology apply. Explain what you did (in an age-appropriate way), why you were wrong, how you understand that it affected the child, what you’ll do to try to keep from doing it again, and (if appropriate) what you’ll do to right the wrong. Once you’ve done that, stop beating yourself up and move on. Remember, you don’t want to teach kids that they have to carry a mistake forever.
Don’t worry about your authority being compromised. The kids will see you as responsible, accountable, and fair, and that’ll increase your authority in the long run.
(Carl Grody, LISW-S, specializes in family therapy in Worthington, Ohio. He’s a trained group leader in the Incredible Years parenting program, and he’s available for in-person and online sessions. He’s also published 13 books, including 12 books for children.)