Do you ever have those moments when you immediately regret what you just said to your child and wish you could take it back?
You are not alone! Throughout my personal and professional experience, I have learned that the most important thing we can do after we have lost our cool with our children is to go back and repair the relationship. Apologize. Let them know that we were wrong and we take full responsibility for our actions.
No matter how hard we try to practice gentle parenting and avoid losing our cool, we aren’t perfect parents, and there are going to be moments when we need to apologize to our children.
Personally, I’ve apologized to my daughters many times. I’ve apologized when I’ve lost my cool, when I was harder than I needed to be, when my desires took over and I didn’t take the time to see them. When this happens, I get on their eye level, offer a hug, and move forward with them in our relationship.
Not saying anything after conflict with our children will leave them to interpret how we are feeling. Even if we are no longer angry or upset with them they might not know this. By coming back to repair the relationship, we are helping them process what happened so that we can both move forward with our day.
“I was feeling pretty upset before. It was tough to have that argument with you. I’m sorry for yelling, that wasn’t ok. Do you know I always love you even when I’m upset?”
Recipe for genuine apologies
I want to share my recipe for genuine apologies. These three ingredients can help you to make a genuine apology to your children that will be meaningful to them.
Let your child know that it wasn’t ok for you to yell at them/lose your cool with them. When you are talking to them, get on their level, make eye contact, and be aware of body language.
“I’m sorry for yelling at you. I lost my cool and it wasn’t ok for me to take it out on you.”
Take complete ownership of your own emotions and actions. Narrate to your child the feelings you had in the moments when you lost your cool. Let them know that you had some big feelings, and you didn’t express them in the best way.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you. I had a big feeling and had a hard time controlling it. I should not have yelled at you.”
Apologizing without taking responsibility will start to become meaningless for our children. This doesn’t mean we won’t mess up again, but it means that we are trying to take steps to do things differently. As we take these steps we give ourselves the compassion we wish we had as a child.
“I was frustrated earlier and had to step out of the room to take deep breaths. Sometimes this time of day is tough for me. I love you and I want you to know you’re not responsible for my feelings. They are my job.”
Apologizing to our children can help us to repair our relationship with them after conflict, and this is an incredibly beautiful gift. We can use these moments to teach our children positive ways that they can respond to conflict in their own lives. By giving our children a genuine apology we can teach them:
- How to repair relationships with their peers, family, and friends
- Problem-solving skills that will serve them throughout their life.
- That your relationship with them is worth humbling yourself for, that your behaviour is your responsibility, that your love is unconditional, and so much more.
Examples of relationship building after conflict
Now that you have this recipe for genuine apologies, I wanted to share some examples of responses to losing your cool that are not helpful vs. some that would be more helpful. Hopefully, these examples can help you to understand why apologizing and repairing the relationship with our children is so important!
Not helpful: Saying nothing, leaving the child to interpret how you feel.
Helpful: I felt pretty upset before. It was tough to have that argument with you. It wasn’t ok that I yelled, I’m sorry. Do you know I always love you even if I’m upset?
Not helpful: You made me so mad! I couldn’t help but yell!
Helpful: I felt really frustrated before. Sometimes I feel frustrated and that’s ok, but it wasn’t ok for me to yell at you. I’m sorry.
When talking to others in the child’s presence…
Not helpful: Taylor was so loud earlier, it was annoying.
Helpful: Taylor was really good at waiting for her turn on the slide at the park! She was so patient and everyone had fun!
Wait to have those discussions about how frustrating your day was until your child can hear.
Remind yourself: “I’m a human who is learning alongside my children. I can make a mistake, reflect on it with compassion for myself, and see what I can do differently next time.”