As an adult, you have most likely experienced the power of an apology—either on the giving or receiving end. A simple, sincere apology can change the storyline, the perspective of a discussion, event or topic. But can apologizing to your child have the same magic effect?
Apologizing helps calm the waters, leads to productive discussions, and the children will learn from your example—they will “internalize” your style.
1. Can enhance self-reflection, taking responsibility, and interpersonal skills.
2. Can decrease paranoia, the victim stance, and the tendency to blame (“externalize”).
3. Can help the children themselves to apologize when appropriate.
What does the apology sound like?
I am really sorry, sweetheart—I was tired and frustrated and got angry, and I should not have shouted at you or used those words. I apologize, and I will try to understand what happened and to improve myself.
I am terribly sorry about what happened…do you think we could maybe talk together about what happened so I could learn something and not have it happen again?
And what underlies the capacity to apologize and enhance the child’s self-reflection? Two processes are especially important:
- Empathy—empathy involves a genuine understanding of what the other person is feeling, without evaluating or judging those feelings.
- And what are the feelings? As previously discussed: interest (curiosity), enjoyment, surprise, distress, anger, fear, shame, disgust, and dissmell (reaction to toxic odors).
In all of this, the parent-child interaction is important—anything that can be done to enhance curiosity and self-reflection in everyone will be well worth the effort.