Intentional parenting

Why it’s important to apologise to your child

Last week, I spent some time setting up the nursery for our next baby. Henry was happy pottering around for a few minutes but then became bored. He started doing things that were an obvious plea for attention which I didn’t respond to. After about 10 minutes of me not responding, he became whiny and clingy. He refused to get off me. I lost my cool and I yelled at him.

I continued with my task, knowing I only had 5 minutes remaining of what I was doing. Henry persisted with his clinginess and I yelled at him again.

I knew that yelling wasn’t going to serve the purpose that I wanted it to, that being for Henry to be patient and occupy himself for 5 minutes. I also knew that yelling would only escalate my own anger (but making the decision to calm down in the heat of the moment is easier said than done!).

Low and behold, I finished the job and told Henry that I was done. I said “let’s go play with your toys” and picked him up. He nuzzled in for a cuddle as I carried him to the lounge room and sat on the rug with him. He then released his arms from my neck and resumed play, like nothing had ever happened.

We played happily for a couple of minutes and then I called him over. I held his hands, looked in his eyes and said “I’m really sorry for yelling at you.” I said “Mummy was trying to do something that needed to be done. You wanted my attention and didn’t listen to what I was saying. That’s why I yelled at you.” I hugged him, gave him a kiss and released him. Off he went to play again – completely un-phased!

I learned so much from this situation upon reflection.

It was a reminder that as a mother, you can’t give your child your attention every minute of the day. That’s not reason to feel guilty – it’s simply the reality of motherhood. It’s also a reality that children have to experience in order to build independence and develop their creative brains.

It forced me to accept that things aren’t always going to be rosy between Henry and I when our next baby arrives. We’ll both have to get used to my attention being divided between two children.

It was a reminder that different emotions serve different but equally important purposes. Anger is never a comfortable experience, especially for the person on the receiving end of it, but it does help to communicate boundaries and emotional thresholds in a way that other emotions can’t.

I learned that the process of apologising isn’t as straightforward with a child as it is with adults because children don’t have the same capacity as adults. Henry doesn’t have the vocabulary to express how my words and actions made him feel because he’s only 2. If he were an adult, he may have said that my yelling made him feel afraid or confused, or that my inattention made him feel unheard and rejected. He also doesn’t have the emotional skills or reference points to know when apologies are and aren’t warranted.

I learned that the difference between apologising to a child and apologising to another adult is often choice. When you yell at another adult, you generally have to apologise, whether it’s because of your value set, a follow up conversation that allows you to see the situation from the other person’s perspective, because the other person is demanding it or because it’s ‘easier’ just to say sorry.

I didn’t have to apologise to Henry. He wasn’t asking me to, he wasn’t expecting me to and he wasn’t holding a grudge. Apology or no apology, he has no choice but to continue being around me and engaging with me, because I’m his mother and he’s fully dependent on me. But I did apologise to him and it was so important for me to do so.

As parents, we are our children’s main models of emotion and behaviour. We shape their values, their morals and their sense of justice. We shape their boundaries and expectations of others. We have an impact on their attachment style which they will carry with them to all future relationships.

I chose to apologise to Henry because it was important, not only in that moment, but for his future. He’s 2 now, but he’ll be a man before I know it. I chose to apologise because I want him to know that while yelling has a time and a place, it shouldn’t be commonplace. I chose to apologise because I want him to learn how to apologise to his peers and loved ones when it’s called for. I chose to apologise because I was in the wrong. I chose to apologise because I want him to know that we’re all human and make mistakes and errors in judgement, but that all of them are fixable. I chose to apologise because I want him to know that he is worthy of love, kindness, empathy, respect and self-respect.

When you consider what the benefits are to our children when we apologise to them and explain the reasons underpinning our behaviour, it’s pretty scary when you consider the messages we’re communicating when we don’t apologise…don’t you think?

Have a great week. I hope your angry moments are far outweighed by the joyful ones!

Beth x

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