Getting Real with Kira Hazledine

I spend a lot of time asking Hallie to say “sorry.” Hallie is a year and a half, and her current attitude has me worried about the terrible twos already. She apologizes for a lot of different things, like hitting, biting, throwing, and just generally being a terror. It’s important that she learn this concept, because I really want to start laying the foundation for empathy, as well as proper behavior. But kids learn by watching, right? And there’s no better opportunity to demonstrate the behavior I want her to have, by apologizing to Hallie myself.

First of all, I can already see the eye rolls and hear the scoffs. Why should you have to apologize to your child? Well, I know that adults seem to really struggle with the concept. What’s so shameful or embarrassing in apologizing? Is it admitting that you were wrong? That’s the problem, is that people who are delivering the apology assume that they have to admit blame, and honestly, you aren’t always right. I won’t have Hallie delivering false apologies because she has been told that’s what she’s supposed to do. It’s a basic lesson in How Not To Be An Asshole 101.

A heartfelt apology is not about who’s at fault. An apology is acknowledging that regardless of how you think or feel, that your actions harmed someone else. You don’t have to be sorry for that specific action, but you can be sorry that someone else was hurt in the process. See the difference? So, Hallie doesn’t always apologize because she did something wrong. Sometimes, Hallie apologies because when running she bumped into someone and accidentally knocked them down. It’s a simple concept that is obvious in childhood but fails in adulthood.

I find myself apologizing to Hallie more often than I would like, which is admitting that I definitely make mistakes in parenting. Sometimes I raise my voice and instantly regret it, or other times I realize that I’ve taken my own bad attitude out on her by punishing behaviors that are completely normal for her age. So, I apologize. I tell Hallie “sorry” for being frustrated, and that it’s not her fault. I tell Hallie that I’m sorry for raising my voice, that I made a mistake, and that I love her dearly. In doing so, I teach her more than one critical lesson. I teach Hallie that it’s so important to recognize other people’s feelings, and that it is also ok to make mistakes.

I apologize to Hallie when she is in trouble, which I’m sure will bring on more eye rolls about my hippie dippy attachment parenting or whatever you want to call it. I don’t apologize for disciplining Hallie, and I don’t backtrack on the consequences. What I do apologize for is how upset I’ve made her, because that sucks. I don’t like seeing her cry. It’s not what I want. I say something along the lines of “I’m very sorry that you are upset, but you aren’t allowed to hit.” What I’ve done now, which is something I can take more advantage of as she gets older, is started a conversation. This isn’t a dictatorship. Yes, I’m the adult here, but I’ve given Hallie the opportunity to have a discussion with me because I recognized her feelings in this. I told her that she mattered, even in a moment of negativity. Hallie feels acknowledged and she can return the favor by listening to what I’m telling her. High emotions cloud understanding, and if she’s busy screaming, she’s not listening.

Apologizing to your child teaches them so many different things. It is a wonderful opportunity to reinforce how important they are, and that even when they are in trouble, they are loved and supported. Apologizing also encourages respect and empathy for others, because feelings are something any kid can pick up on. It may seem silly, but as most adults should hopefully know, an apology can make all the difference.