Apologizing to the Kids

There are moments when I overreact and last night contained one of those moments.  I made a comment in addressing a situation at dinner and shortly afterwards, the family dispersed as my wife and I took the kids to multiple activities.  While I was gone, the comment nagged at me until I concluded that I had no choice but to apologize to the child in question.  Before that child’s bedtime, I apologized for the comment; as we talked, I specifically stated that I didn’t apologize for the other outcome of that mess, but did want to say that I was sorry for the words.

On NCIS, Jethro Gibbs has a  rule that forbids making an apology because it makes that person apologizing appear weak.  And there’s some merit to that since it’s common to hear people utter the word sorry – especially children –  in a flip and unconvincing manner.  And many parents are leery of apologizing to their children because they fear that it calls their authority and image into question.  If I apologize for this, then they’ll question me or throw it back in my face later.  It’s not that much of a concern for the littler ones but it can be legitimate for the ‘tweens and teens.

But I concluded some time ago that it’s better to apologize than stay close-mouthed when wrong.

  • I realized soon after becoming a father that a child has to be taught almost everything.  That runs the gamut from holding a spoon to tying shoes but also an intangible skill such as issuing a meaningful and appropriate apology. 
  • If a child with hurt feelings can hear an apology for what created those feelings, they’re more likely when older to consider their own comments and the effect upon others.  They’re more likely to realize when they’ve said something stupid and recall how it felt.
  • Apologizing for something legitimate forces me to carefully work through the situation again with the child.  I can again review a situation with the child and yet some of the burden of being reminded is removed from the child.  In last night’s case, I took responsibility for uttering a cruel and stupid remark.  And in the same conversation, I was also able to explain to my child why their preceding action was also wrong and worthy of discipline even if the comment was unnecessary. 
  • It simply keeps the lines of communication open.  Wrongly used words can be corrosive and if there’s no recognition that they’re said, then there’s damage to a relationship that’s going to be tested as the kids age.

In their own eyes, kids have a lot more to prove than their parents.  Many want to show that they’re able to do for themselves and it’s natural that they fear an apology will make them appear incapable and weak.  So I’m going to have to continue to be willing to apologize when I’m legitimately wrong.  There will be a time when they’ll also step up – in fact, there have already been several occasions when that’s occurred.

And I also need to work on my own mouth.

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