What To Do When You Mess Up As A Parent
I really messed up this weekend. I lost my cool with my son and resorted to yelling.
This kind of argument tends to happen with my son and I about once or twice a year. When the conditions are just right (I’m tired, or stressed, or it has been a looooong summer, etc.) I can succumb to parenting out of emotion rather than out of rationality.
My son and I are very much alike, so we both know how to dig in our heels and not give up on our point of view.
Once our argument was over and consequences were handed out and we had a chance to talk about what happened, I had a chance to reflect on the situation.
I wasn’t happy with my son’s behavior. I wasn’t happy with my behavior. I wish I had handled things differently; yet, even though there were so many things I wish had NOT happened during this argument, this situation actually brought us closer together.
How did that happen??
It’s what happened AFTER the argument that contributed to encouraging the growth in our relationship, rather than having had the argument in the first place.
Here are some tips to follow if you want to repair your relationship with your child after committing a parenting “NO-NO.”
1. Admit You Were Wrong & Apologize
Admitting you were wrong has many benefits.
First of all, it models to your child how to take personal responsibility for incorrect behavior.
Not only is this a difficult skill for lots of kids to master, many ADULTS NEVER ACQUIRE THIS SKILL IN THEIR LIFETIMES! Therefore, if your child can learn this important life lesson during their childhoods, then they become way ahead of the curve in terms of becoming a great adult.
Admitting your mistake also serves to validate your child. What is validation? Is it a silly pop-psych term that you should ignore. No!
Karyn D. Hall, Ph.D, who wrote the book The Power of Validation, describes validation as “the recognition and acceptance that your child has feelings and thoughts that are true and real to him or her regardless of logic or whether it makes sense to anyone else.”
Validating your child’s experience isn’t AGREEING with him or her – it is simply meeting them where they are in their experience.
Validation is very beneficial to your relationship with your child. It helps your child to:
- Express their emotions
- Develop a secure sense of self
- Gain confidence
- Feel more connected to their parents
- Have better relationships in adulthood.
2. Acknowledge Which Parts Were Wrong vs. Which Parts Were Right
I think that it is very important to establish with your child that even though your approach during the argument was not appropriate, it doesn’t mean that the POINT of the argument should be ignored.
PARENTS SHOULD NOT GIVE UP THEIR AUTHORITY JUST BECAUSE THEY WERE NOT PERFECT IN THE EXECUTION OF PARENTING.
Acknowledge that you shouldn’t have yelled (or whatever you are admitting to), but remind your child whatever it was that started the argument still needs to be addressed. AND THEN ADDRESS IT!
For example, when my son and I had a chance to talk about our argument, I acknowledged that I should not have resorted to yelling, but that he still broke a rule and we needed to deal with that.
Just because I yelled doesn’t give him a “free pass” to not receiving his consequences. You are not doing any favors for your child if you do not follow through with the consequences to broken family rules.
3. Allow Your Child to Speak About Their Experience
Now that you have admitted your part in the argument and have spoken about your feelings, let your child address their feelings. This is the only way both of you can begin to move on from the argument.
In my experience as a child psychologist, I have seen so many families in my clinic who become “stuck” because they have not been allowed to speak about their feelings.
Let your child tell you in a respectful way about how he/she felt during the argument. Your child needs to get these emotions out. Listen to your child. You don’t have to agree with your child, but understand that their emotions are their experience – there isn’t a right or wrong about how they individually experienced a situation.
Try not to negate their feelings – this will only cause them confusion and they will learn that they cannot trust heir own feelings. Remember: you can’t change someone’s feelings – you can only inspire change in their behaviors.
Therefore, it’s best to acknowledge the feelings that occurred during the argument and focus on changing behaviors for the next time something like this happens.
4. Allow Your Child To Claim Responsibility For Their Part
Now it’s time for your child to practice what you have just modeled for them – responsibility. Let your child take this mature step and allow them to acknowledge their part in the argument.
It’s also rewarding as a parent to see your child being responsible. Try not to be picky about what your child claims as their responsibility. This is a learning process for your child.
After your child has accepted responsibility for their part of the argument, follow up with a warm acknowledgement that you are proud of them.
5. Establish How You and Your Child Can Grow From This Experience
Just because you and your child have an argument doesn’t mean that your kid is a bad kid and it doesn’t mean that you are a horrible parent. It just means that you are both human.
Take this opportunity to turn a bad situation into a chance to become closer with your child. End your discussion of the argument in a warm way, such as:
- With a statement of how you appreciate the adult way you were able to speak with your child
- With hugs
- With humor
- With an agreement between the two of you with regard to how you will both handle things the next time you have an argument.
Take Home Message
The take home message here is that by following the advice laid out above, you and your child are more likely to grow into that relationship that you have always dreamed of having with your child.
Worthwhile relationships take great effort and patience to achieve and YOU CAN HAVE THIS RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR CHILD!
I was very proud of my son during our post-mortem argument discussion. He listened well, accepted my apology, offered up his own apology, and seemed to really understand that even though I messed up and yelled at him, that I still love him no matter what.
I was so impressed by the calm, thoughtful, and wise statements coming from my son – it filled my heart with pride to see him really “get it.”
I’d love to hear about how you handle the aftermath of arguments with your child in the comment section below….
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