Model sincere apologies
By Sally Creed, LPC-S, RPT-S
I’ve heard this simple saying all my life. For those of you who haven’t, it means that whatever we see, we will do. In other words, we mimic things without fully understanding why or what we’re doing. As parents, we need to remember this saying when we’re raising our children. Children watch every move we make and they will say what they hear us say and do what they see us do. Another common saying is “Do what I say, not what I do.” Unfortunately, this almost never happens. Our kids usually do what we do every time.
I recently heard a friend talk about a dad she knew. He has three children he loves and for the most part—he’s a great father. However, he doesn’t EVER apologize to them when he does something that upsets them or does something wrong. One time he heard his young son crying in another room and he punished the middle child, believing that the middle child made the younger one cry. He later learned that the middle child had nothing to do with it, but dad didn’t say he was sorry. He believes that he’s the adult and doesn’t owe his children an apology about anything he does. He sounds like John Wayne in the movie “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” when he said: “Never apologize, mister, it’s a sign of weakness.”
Imagine what these children are learning from their loving father—that when you grow up, you can do whatever you want and not ever have to account for it by apologizing. Or that apologizing is a sign of weakness. That sounds like a bully to me.
When children do something wrong and don’t apologize for it and make amends, then guilt sets in. They know deep down that what they did was wrong and when they apologize and are forgiven, they will feel better. But never apologizing means they hold in this guilt and it will damage their self-esteem in later years and may turn them into bullies. Children who are taught to apologize for something they’ve done wrong or for hurting someone’s feelings are going to be able to better understand their feelings and will have better friendships as they get older. It may also help them handle difficult situations in their adult lives as well.
By apologizing to our child, we are demonstrating to them that everyone (including parents) makes mistakes and that we need to offer sincere apologies to those we have hurt. When my kids were younger, I would apologize for things all the time. One Sunday night, we were driving around in the neighborhood. The weather was great and I had the windows down. The kids (probably ages 10 and 7 at the time), had unbuckled their seatbelts and were hanging their faces out the window feeling the breeze. I was only going a few blocks so I let them have a little fun— but a policeman pulled me over and warned me to make sure they were buckled at all times. The kids were crying because it scared them. However, none of this was their fault. It was mine. So I told them this and apologized to them about not making them stay buckled.
Our kids are watching everything we do and say. They are learning from us all the time. So remember our play therapy saying: “The important thing is what you do after what you’ve done.” You’re not perfect and you do make mistakes. Act like the adult you are and model sincere apologies for your children, so they can grow up to reflect the wonderful adult you have become.
“Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”— Proverbs 11:2 (NLT)