The Two Most Important Words I Can Say to My Son

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Parents shouldn’t fear the power of two little words. (Photo: Ana Connery)

I’m sorry. Two simple little words, but our egos often get in the way of saying them.

Recently, I scolded my 9-year-old son for losing his iPad. But despite his long history of losing his possessions, it turned out to be me who misplaced it. An iPad is an expensive item, one his father and I discussed at length before purchasing, so it’s no surprise that I was upset when it went missing.

I certainly raised my voice (OK, fine, I totally freaked out), but when I realized that I lost my temper and the iPad, I knew I owed my son an apology. While I was embarrassed by my outburst and not thrilled about admitting it, I wanted to show him that apologizing is a worthwhile habit to form.  

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“Being able to apologize is an act of love,” Tania Paredes, a Miami-based marriage and family therapist, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Saying it communicates that you care about how the other person feels, and how your words affects them.” She suggests following each apology with a hug or kiss, so you underscore your words with a physical act of love. We call this “hugging it out” at our house.

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But long after both my apology and hug, I wondered why I had felt so uncomfortable apologizing. Part of it could be due to my role as an authority figure. “As parents we think we’re never supposed to be wrong, that we should always have the right answers, but everyone makes mistakes,” says Paredes. “The concept of being right all the time, whether it’s in front of our kids or someone else, isn’t reflective of real life.”

Real life is what I’m worried about — in the insular world of our family culture, my son is loved even when he screws up — as am I, thankfully. But it makes me cringe to think he could turn into one of those obnoxious adults who always blames others, struggles to admit when he’s wrong and lets his ego block the path to resolving conflict. We’ve all encountered people like that. So what’s the best way to avoid this altogether?

Model accountability — and don’t fear appearing weak. I am my son’s first and most important role model, so it’s important that I hold myself accountable if I expect him to be accountable  — and that doesn’t just mean apologizing to him when I’m wrong. “We also need to apologize to spouses and others in front of our kids, so they understand that it’s an important communication tool,” says Paredes. Simply put, I need to rock an apology when one is called for and let go of any of my own negative feelings.

Remember that apologizing is the key to resiliency. “We know that people who are resilient do better at work and in relationships, so teaching kids how to be good ‘mistake makers’ is a great idea,” Ellen Pritchard Dodge, of Kimochis, a toy brand that encouraging kids to communicate their feelings, tells Yahoo Parenting. In other words, when you apologize, everyone feels better, which allows you to move on — and possibly learn from — the experience.

Create a culture of do-overs. “Being apologetic is a state of being, not just something you do,” says Pritchard. “Make it clear that kids have a ‘second-chance’ family where everyone gets a do-over, if everyone owns their mistakes and shows sincerity.”

Yes, I freaked out over the iPad. Whether or not it was called for, I showed my son that saying those two simple words — I’m sorry — is worth swallowing your pride for, no matter how things turn out.

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