Saying Sorry to Kids Is Not a Weakness - Baby Chick
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Saying Sorry to Kids Is Not a Weakness

Learn what a true apology looks like and discover six critical things that saying sorry can teach parents and their children.

Updated March 16, 2024

by Kristen Winiarski

Medically reviewed by Rachel Tomlinson

Registered Psychologist

No matter your age, it can be hard to apologize. It involves swallowing your pride, taking responsibility, admitting fault, and demonstrating regret.1 When my kids are mean to each other, they need to apologize and make up. I’ve taught them this is the right way to deal with and move on from a conflict. Parents often have a hard time saying sorry, but it can be vital in showing your kids that you’re human, too. It’s also crucial to build a relationship based on trust. Although you’re the authority figure, you need to show them that it’s important to recognize when you’re wrong.

Everyone makes mistakes, and owning up to them is an important lesson.4 As a parent, you get frustrated and may overreact. You may treat your children unfairly due to your mood, frustration, or lack of sleep. I’ve found that these are the instances I apologize the most often for to my children. Being a parent is hard, and it gets to you. I’ve fully admitted when I’ve overreacted and made sure to give my kids a true apology.

What Does a True Apology Look Like?

A true apology is genuine.5 A genuine apology is one where the person takes responsibility and doesn’t make excuses, as opposed to a false or more strategic apology (where someone can avoid getting in trouble or dealing with a consequence).1 You may say things to your kids like, “I’m sorry, but it’s time for a nap,” or something similar to lessen their reactions. This type of statement is not an apology; it’s more strategic, and the outcome (or hope) is that there are no consequences or further trouble. A true apology clearly outlines what you did wrong so the child can understand. It involves you taking responsibility and making sure not to shift the blame back on your child.

Rather than saying, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but you made me upset,” you should phrase it differently. Focus on what you did wrong instead of shifting blame (you made me upset). Instead, say something like, “I overreacted. I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. I’m sorry.” This type of apology offers no excuses and recognizes fault. It can be tempting to explain why you yelled, but it isn’t about justifying your actions. It’s about acknowledging that you did or said something wrong or unfair.

What a True Apology Teaches You and Your Kids

True apologies can do six critical things for both parents and children:

1. Learning Right Versus Wrong

Understanding the difference between right and wrong is one of the most valuable lessons your child will learn. As a parent, you help develop your child’s conscience. By apologizing for something you did wrong, your child will begin to conceptualize right versus wrong.1

2. Building Your Relationship

When you offer true apologies to your children, it will help build good relationships. Everyone makes mistakes, and acknowledging these mistakes is important in strengthening a relationship. Doing this will build trust with your kids, improve your bond, and validate their feelings.2 Alternatively, if you stick to your words or actions when you’ve treated your children unfairly or incorrectly, you may lose their trust. They may also be less likely to apologize when they make a mistake if they repeatedly witness your unwillingness to do the same.

3. Taking Responsibility

Even children as young as toddlers can learn to take responsibility for their actions. When you take responsibility, you’re also teaching your kids how to do it.3 Your willingness to be vulnerable is impactful; your children will remember your bravery and recognize why it’s important. There are things that everyone hates doing, and apologizing is one of them — but it’s necessary!

4. Learning How To Apologize

Your kids model your behavior and are interested in doing many of the things you do. Apologizing to your children will help them gain the courage to apologize for themselves.3 They will see your example and be able to model it. It’s hard to admit mistakes, and the compulsion of self-preservation can be hard to work against. Witnessing how you apologize will help your child apologize later on, even if they’re afraid of the consequences.

5. Learning Forgiveness

Because everyone makes mistakes, learning to forgive is an essential life skill. Holding grudges can be harmful to both parties. By being able to forgive and let go, your children will be better able to navigate the world and their future relationships.3

6. Becoming a Better Parent

In addition to teaching your child valuable lessons and improving your relationship, apologizing is beneficial for you as a parent. After all, you’re never too old to learn and grow! Apologizing to your child will help you grow as a person and help you learn how to admit your mistakes.

Saying sorry to your kids is not a weakness. In fact, it’s a strength to be able to admit your mistakes. You will show them how to apologize, why it’s important, and that you respect them. As a result, they will better navigate their future relationships and trust their relationship with you.

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Kristen N. Winiarski spends much of her days battling her kids' hangry moods with bacon and Cookie Monster impressions. She also encourages dance parties as P.E. whenever possible. Kristen started… Read more

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