Maybe you’ve yelled at your children when you should have been calm.
Perhaps you brushed them aside when you should have paid attention to them.
You might have been so busy, or so caught up in your own stuff, that you missed important parts of your child’s life.
Don’t worry; all of us make mistakes as parents.
This does not need to harm your relationship with your kids. In fact, your relationship with your children is becomes better when you repair your mistakes well.
Relationship repair 101
There are four parts to good relationship repair:
1. Take full responsibility for your mistake
2. Acknowledge how you hurt your child.
3. Say what you will do differently from now on.
4. Do what you said you’d do.
Let’s go over each one:
Take full responsibility for your mistake:
This means that you hold yourself responsible for your behaviour, for your error.
For instance, imagine that you yelled at your child. When you take full responsibility for your mistake you say something like “I am so sorry I yelled at you then. It is not ok to yell like that, and I shouldn’t have done it”.
You don’t get to take back some of your responsibility by having an angry or dismissive tone of voice. Wait to apologize until you are calm and actually feel contrite.
Also, you don’t get to diminish your responsibility by adding a “but” like “but, you were really annoying” or “I’ve been really stressed lately”.
Any qualifiers like that (no matter how truthful they feel to you) take away from a lot from your apology. Don’t do it.
Acknowledge how you hurt your child:
In this part of the relationship repair, it is your job to imagine how what you did affected your child, and let her know that you understand how she’s been hurt.
So, in the example of you having yelled at your child, you might say something like: “I imagine it was really scary for you when I got mad like that. Maybe you felt unsafe and maybe even wondered if you are bad kid?”
Often parents skip this part of the relationship repair because they feel it is hard to share this kind of vulnerability with their kids. Or, perhaps you are not sure you understand how your child felt in the moment you made your mistake.
The key is to show that you honestly want to understand what is going on for your child, and then listen to their response.
Say what you will do differently from now on:
Next, you need to tell your kid what you will change, so you don’t make that mistake again.
Do not promise the moon, but instead be honest and realistic.
So, don’t say something like “ I promise I’ll never yell at you again”. Your child will not believe that, and you likely won’t be able to live up to it. These kinds of empty promises will hurt your relationship.
Instead say what is true for you.
It may be something like “I can have pretty short fuse at times. I am working on that, and figuring out ways to calm myself down faster. In the future, when I notice myself getting too agitated, I’ll take a time out. I’ll take some deep breaths, and think about something positive. I may not get it perfect at first, but I’m working on it”
You can invite your child to join you in that calming activity, but make it clear that she is not responsible for your emotional state.
Do what you say:
Empty promises are very harmful to your relationship. Do not say you will do something that you can’t deliver on, and make sure that you do what you said.
When to get help:
There may be times when you are not able to do this kind of relationship repair.
Maybe you are not able to apologize, because you feel too angry or hurt. That is a time you may need some help in sorting out what is going on for you.
Perhaps you can’t figure out what your child might be feeling. Some people have a hard time entering into the emotional world of others, and this could be a good time to get some help to build skills in this area.
You may have done something serious, and feel really ashamed about it. Perhaps this shame is keeping you from taking responsibility, and you’d prefer to just avoid the whole thing.
This is exactly the time that relationship repair is essential. Therapy can be incredibly successful in helping you overcome your shame so you can do what you need to do.
Another time to get some help is if you are not able to follow through on what you said you’d do. Therapy can be very helpful in resolving your barriers to being consistent.
Please take your time to look at the resources on my website, and when you are ready, I invite you to contact me, so we can figure out how I can best help you. I look forward to hearing from you!