The other day I was browsing Pinterest (as usual) and came across a pin that appealed to me. It seemed to be advertising a post written on a parenting blog about raising kids that were happy, disciplined and well-rounded. Who doesn’t want that, right?
But upon visiting the site and actually reading more, I was disappointed. So much so I actually made a point of *gasp* unpinning it! (Pinterest lovers, clutch your pearls!)
The problem was the advice was simply at odds with what I believed as a parent. Do I believe that children should behave in public? Yes. Do I believe children should have a routine and chores around the house? I do. Do I believe that children should listen to their parents? Of course!
The advice I found, though, put me more in mind of a military boot camp than a loving home.
There was one thing that struck a chord; that was about showing authority and sticking to your guns, no matter what. Of course, this can be a very useful, even necessary tool for disciplining and teaching your kids, but I feel there is one big flaw here.
You are only human, and one day, your kids are going to see this.
Let me explain.
Children worship their parents. No matter how unruly they can be at times, no matter how they might try and push the boundaries, they will always, unconditionally love their parents and want to please them.
Most people are close to being adults themselves before they ever have that moment of realisation: that their parents are only human; as flawed and imperfect as the rest of us.
Therefore, isn’t it important that when they are young and impressionable, we teach them a fundamental characteristic?
How can you teach a child to be compassionate if you never demonstrate compassion with them? If you stick to your guns to the point of refusing to ever be questioned or admit to a mistake, what sort of lesson are you really teaching?
I wrote a post a while back about what I felt was the most important things not to say in front of your kids. this was kind of a response to seeing so many parenting ‘advice’ columns that I felt had misplaced priorities. That post has ended up being my most popular by far, with over 7,000 more views than any other post!
*Rolls up sleeves*
Well, consider this a follow-up.
As his parent, I consider apologising to my four-year-old extremely important. Why? Because I do not, ever, want him to believe it is his fault if I am having a bad day.
If I overreact to a silly little thing or if am grumpy and snap or simply act tired and distracted. These things are all my failings, not his.
I am only human.
Of course, I want him to see me as wonder woman, all mothers hope their sons will look up to them! But I also want him to understand that sometimes, even Mummy has a bad day or says something she doesn’t mean. I want him to know with absolute, unwavering certainty that I love him no matter what, even if I’m in a bad mood.
I know that some parents probably feel you should never apologise to your child, out of the belief that it is ‘showing weakness’ or it ‘undermines your authority’ or some such.
But there is a matter of context, here.
If, say, your child is trying to throw themselves into the road or stick their hands in a hot oven, then throws a screaming fit when you stop them? Nope, no need to apologise.
Those events are not exactly what I was thinking of, obviously. Let’s look at what I’m really talking about.
Did they mean it?
If your child is playing quietly and you step on their toy, then yell at them for making a mess because your foot hurts? Well, once you’ve calmed down you might realise you’ve overreacted, slightly.
Try apologising for shouting, but do explain to them that you did so only because you were hurt by their toy and the pain made you lose your temper. You could use this as an opportunity to ask your child to help tidy up the things they aren’t playing with to make the room safer for everyone. This is an excellent learning opportunity.
I have personally found this scenario works like a charm. I have never seen such a dedicated and focussed tidy up as when I asked my son to help keep everyone safe from sore feet!
What if you’re the problem?
There have also been days, back when I was finding things quite difficult when I have been unable to shift my black mood. This has, I hate to admit, led to me being snappy and grumpy when my eldest did not deserve it.
One day I snapped at him for doing something wrong, something simple. He is only four so even if I felt he should know better, of course he will still make mistakes.
I remember seeing his little face crumple and I just felt like the biggest failure in the world. That was something of a turning point for my beliefs and choice of behaviour as a parent.
It was at that moment that I realised how impatient and selfish my behaviour was.
So I took a step back and recognised that the things I was berating him for either didn’t really matter or were easy to fix with a little patience.
I remember taking him into my arms and apologising through tears for being grumpy, for snapping, for being impatient. I told him how much I loved him and what a good, kind, smart, considerate and perfect boy he was and that I would try harder to be less grumpy.
After we cuddled and I had apologised, I asked if he’d forgive me and of course he did. The rest of our day went so much more smoothly. I felt a veil lift from my eyes and suddenly my beautiful boy was not a nuisance, but the funny, sweet, well-behaved boy I knew. Of course, he had always been that boy, it was me who had been unreasonable and
Of course, he had always been that boy, it was me who had been unreasonable. Apologising to him had humbled and revived me.
Taking responsibility for your actions
One thing we, as parents, try to instill in our children is the importance of responsibility, including taking responsibility for our actions.
As their parents, our actions are their model for how they should behave: how they should treat others, treat authority etc. If you refuse to take responsibility for your own actions, how can you act surprised when they follow your example?
If you lose your temper, snap or just forget to do something you had promised your kid you would do, do you think the proper course of action is to tell them ‘tough’ or ‘because I said so’ or ignore the issue completely?
Think of it this way; as an adult, if someone was rude to you, promised to do something for you then didn’t or said something hurtful, would you accept any of those actions as appropriate ways to deal with it? If a friend lost their temper and snapped at you, wouldn’t you expect an apology?
So why is it okay to dismiss our children’s feelings, or their right to be shown basic consideration as a human being?
If you screw up, it’s okay to admit it. It is okay to apologise, offer an explanation and ask forgiveness. Children are naturally compassionate and want you to be happy. You might be surprised with the level of empathy you receive.
This will clear the air between you and trust me when I say, the rest of the day will feel so much lighter without the weight of this encounter at the back of your mind.
They need to feel validated as much as you do.
I love this quote.
I feel that very often, we as adults forget all too easily that children can have the same feelings and needs as we do. We know that children think and feel differently, but that does not mean they don’t think and feel at all.
A friend of mine recently recounted witnessing a child (about 5-6) being ignored by their mother, who then began turning to strangers for attention. I won’t go into detail but the whole encounter was heart-breaking because it was clear how attention starved this poor child was.
Thinking back through my life, I have many fond childhood memories, but there are, unavoidably, some negative ones as well.
When I really think about it, the negative ones that stand out the most, that made the biggest impression, were the ones that were the most emotionally hurtful.
The ones where another child, or even adult, said something mean. Not because of what was said, but because they had not considered my feelings when they said it.
When I was about ten, a friend’s mother called me a bad influence. Why? Because I was hyperactive. This hurt my feelings because she had said it so matter of factly as if I wasn’t there or wouldn’t understand. I had always tried to make a good impression on this family as I loved my friend. I had always been polite and courteous and grateful. But because I played a little too loudly, I was ‘bad’.
Ten-year-old me was crushed. I had never been asked to be quiet or calm or been told in any way that my behaviour was coming across disruptive. This is a prime example. This adult disregarded my feelings, my intelligence, and emotional maturity. Because she didn’t even bother to try ‘fixing’ the problem in the first place. It most likely hadn’t even occurred to her that a child could be reasoned with or would want to help.
I think about memories like this and how important it is to me that my boys both know I do not underestimate or undervalue their emotional intelligence.
I want them to be confident that I will treat them with respect and consideration by being open with them.
That quote I used by Catherine Wallace is something I think all parents fear. Not just because their children might be keeping secrets. Because how lonely must our babies have become if they don’t feel they can confide in us, their first and truest supporters? I would never forgive myself if my sons one day told me they didn’t feel they could talk to me about the big things.
The truth is apologising to your child is just one small step in many for teaching compassion, respect, and honesty. It is just the beginning in forging a lifelong bond that will allow you to create a solid and stable relationship.
Apologising to your child is not weak or coddling or spoiling them. It shows empathy, it shows compassion, it teaches them you care and understand. It validates their feelings and makes them feel worthy and loved.
And isn’t that the most important thing?