Go Ahead! Say The “S” Word To Your Kids
No, I haven’t lost my mind. This post is all about saying the “S” word to your kids. Many people would disagree with me, but I sincerely believe our kids need to hear it and they need to hear it from us.
Let me explain…
For Jewish people all around the world, this is the holiest time of the year. On Yom Kippur, also known as The Day of Atonement, we reflect on our actions over the previous year and ask forgiveness from G-d and each other for our wrongdoings.
For me, Yom Kippur is a time to examine whether or not I’m living in alignment with my values. If I’m not, it’s a time to make changes and apologize to those I’ve let down. It’s a ritual I take very seriously because it pushes me to take responsibility for my actions, acknowledge my imperfections, and directly ask for forgiveness from the people I cherish the most.
Every year, I know I could’ve done better. I’ve said or done things I regretted. I know an apology is in order, but they can be difficult to make, especially to my children.
Some parents never apologize to their children because they think it’s a sign of weakness or that they’ll lose authority by admitting a mistake. But how will children ever feel safe enough to confess their own shortcomings to parents who uphold a perfect façade? They need role models to demonstrate how to take responsibility, handle mistakes, and apologize with sincerity. A genuine apology increases trust and connection — which helps to build authority and influence with kids, not wear it away.
Some parents apologize often but never change their behavior. Their words eventually fall on deaf ears. Children of these parents learn that they can't trust an apology because it isn’t backed by action. We’ve all known people who think the “S” word will magically make everything better simply by saying it. But just as we know an insincere or contrived apology when we hear one, so do our kids.
If we expect our children to take responsibility and change their behavior, we’ve got to show them how it’s done.
Saying “I'm Sorry”
One year before Yom Kippur when Marissa was seven, I sat down and wrote her an apology, which I then read to her out loud. Here's what I said:
I apologize to you for:
- not playing with you more
- not paying more attention to you when you needed me to
- reacting harshly when I became frustrated or upset
- saying anything to you that made you feel you were not good enough, smart enough, or that you are unloved.
You are perfect to me the way you are right now. This doesn't mean that there aren't things you could do better, but it means that I love you exactly as you are.”
Marissa's face lit up with a combination of surprise and elation. Then I asked for forgiveness (which she granted me) and we hugged. It was a really special moment between us.
But my apology didn't stop there. Since I'd acknowledged specific things for which I had remorse, I needed to change my behavior, so I wouldn't be apologizing for them again the next year.
I wish I could report that I never lose my cool anymore and that I always give Marissa my undivided attention, but of course, that's not the case. I can tell you that I play with her a lot more than I used to. I'm more attentive and less distracted by my phone and other technology. I continue to work on remaining calm when my buttons get pushed and I do my best to respond with empathy and firm limits. I also strive to let Marissa know I accept her unconditionally.
During this time of self-reflection and accountability, go ahead and say ‘sorry' to your child. You'll both be glad you did.
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