January 27, 2010

Your Children Reflect You: Apologies

Every parent wants to see their child to grow up to be a "good person."  What this means, exactly, varies slightly from one culture, family and individual to another, but I would think that every parent would want their child to be able to develop deep, lasting relationships with other people.

In order to maintain a healthy relationship with a friend, family member or significant other in the long run, children need to learn how to apologize.  The reality is that things go wrong and people make mistakes; handling them in a sensitive, caring way is what makes the difference in a relationship.

Just like learning good manners, children learn to feel comfortable with apologies when they have seen them and been exposed to them on a regular basis.  And that brings me to a sticky question: when is the last time your kids heard or saw you apologize?
If you force your kids to apologize but they never see you or another adult do it, they are likely to come to the devastating conclusion that apologies are just for kids or, much worse, that apologies are about control.  Then they'll look forward to the day when they're in charge and nobody can make them do anything.

If you have a hard time apologizing to your spouse or to a friend, take a look in the mirror.  Do you view apologies as an issue of control?  You don't have to.  It's not about control of the situation; it's about your relationship with a person you care about.  So, before dealing with this issue with your child, deal with it yourself.  Then, check out the tips below to proceed with your kids.

  • Apologize to your spouse or significant other in front of your kids.  Let's face it: your kids know when you and your partner aren't getting along.  Think back to your own childhood: even if your parents tried to hide it, you knew when things weren't quite right.  So, let's say you catch yourself in the wrong in an argument (and let's face it: in every argument, chances are you have a slice of the wrongdoing), stop yourself.  Take a deep breath.  Apologize.  
  • Review your apology expectations, and apply them first to yourself.  When you do apologize, do it the way you would want your kids to do it:  1)  Say what you're sorry for, 2) acknowledge how it affected the other person and, depending on the situation, 3) ask how you can make it right.  Don't spit out a bitter "Sorry!" or, worse, a fake apology: "I'm sorry, but you..."  
  • Apologize to your kids.  If you owe your kids an apology, say you're sorry!  Remember, apologies are NOT about control.  You aren't giving up control to your kids by apologizing to them; you are keeping your relationship healthy.  
  • Enforce the rules.  Tell your kids how to construct an apology (see apology expectations), and then make sure they apologize when they should and that they do it right.  It still may not be easy for them, but at least they'll have a model to work from: you.  

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