The Power of Apology

July 17, 2014

By Dan Coulter

When’s the last time you apologized to one of your kids? Of course, maybe you don’t ever do anything that requires an apology.

If so, you are a very rare person. I believe most of us can recall times when we’ve assumed something about our kids that turned out not to be the case. Other times, we may have understood perfectly well, but got frustrated and engaged in a bit of scolding overkill.

I apologized to my adult son the other day after I jumped to a conclusion and assumed that he’d done something he hadn’t. I think there may be a tendency not to apologize to our kids (especially to younger children) as often as we should. Maybe we fear that admitting we did something wrong will undermine our authority. But kids can often sense when something’s unfair. Do you respect someone more for not admitting a mistake, or for acknowledging it?

It’s never pleasant to think about our sons and daughters discovering we’re not perfect, but this is just not under our control. It’s something kids figure out sooner or later. And how they think of us the rest of their lives depends, in part, on how they see us dealing with our imperfections.

Years ago, after I’d been working in public relations at a large corporation for quite a while, I asked an intern to proofread a news release I’d written. She gave it back to me without catching a typographical error I’d made. When I caught the mistake myself and pointed it out to her, she said she hadn’t checked the document closely because I’d written it. She figured that with my level of skill and experience, her proofreading was just a formality. I had to gently disabuse her of the idea that people who have skills and experience don’t make mistakes. In fact, the more experience you have, the more you learn to create safeguards to catch inevitable mistakes before they become major problems.

Given that I’m not perfect, I want my kids to see me as someone who’s always trying to do the right thing. That includes owning up to blunders when I realize I’ve made them.

Sometimes, we can catch ourselves doing something we know is counter productive, but it’s hard to stop. Like trying to change our kids’ behaviors after an infraction by lecturing them at length and trying to make them feel really, really sorry.

How many of us have seen that loading on the guilt isn’t effective in changing our kids’ behaviors, but find it hard to hold back when we’re caught up in the moment? I can claim to have gotten better at restraining myself, but it usually requires a conscious effort. Left to its own devices, my head often wants to administer a devastating dose of parental logic when a few calm words will suffice.

I’m a lot better than I used to be, but I still can go too far. When I do, or when I make some other family faux pas, I try and make it a point to apologize.

Unselfishly, this is a lot better for my kids in daily life. Selfishly, in the long run, this means they’re more likely to think of me as a fair guy as they become adults. Not a perfect guy, but that was never really an option.

We won’t discuss the number of times this means I've had to apologize to my kids, my wife, and others.

I’m not that good at math. Sorry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the author of "The Puberty Video for Boys with Asperger Syndrome" and 12 other Asperger and autism-related videos. You can find more articles on his website at coultervideo.com.

Copyright 2007 Dan Coulter (Revised 2014)    All Rights Reserved.    Used by Permission.

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