When I was a kid occasionally my dad would lose his temper.
I’m sure he had a decent reason for feeling upset, a long day of work plus maybe I was roller skating through the house, making a lot of noise, or fighting with my brother or sister.
I remember seeing his face get red, and he’d yell, “Go to your room!”
I would stomp off and lay on my bed in my room feeling sad or angry.
Minutes later he would gently knock on the bedroom door. He would slowly open it and tell me that he was sorry for yelling at me.
I didn’t hold a grudge, nor was I left feeling shame or fear. Pretty quickly I felt reconnected to him.
His ability to say that he was sorry, and reconnect left a powerful impression on me as a kid.
Now that Jason and I are parents, as hard as we try not to, we sometimes yell, lose our patience, or make mistakes.
I know quickly that I’ve misstepped from the looks on my kids’ faces. They either look hurt or defiant, or both.
I also know that I’ve misstepped from how I feel–for just a second, it feels good to yell or threaten; in the next second, I feel regret.
How do I quickly reconnect and get the conversation back on track?
There are 6 things to consider…
When you say something that hurts your child, it can be tempting to beat yourself up, blame or shame yourself. Self-judgement stops self growth.
Rather than thinking, “I’m a horrible parent”, think “What feeling was I having?”. Were you frustrated, disappointed, impatient, or angry?
Then connect to the unmet need that you had. Was it for order, predictability, ease, peace, or harmony?
Lastly, can you have compassion for the version of yourself that acted in the way that you now regret?
Talk About What You Regret
This can be as simple as saying, “I regret what happened earlier when I said ___. I wasn’t being the kind of parent I want to be.”
Or say, “I’m sorry for _____. I wish I had said ____.”
This is a good time to engage your higher-order thinking brain because you are no longer flooded with emotions.
Ask for a “do over”. This is where you might even be able to add some lightness or humor.
“Can we get out a big imaginary eraser and erase our earlier conversation?” or “Can I start over? Let’s press the rewind button. I can do it differently this time.”
Role Model Reconnection
Our kids learn from us. If we beat ourselves up for a mistake, they will learn to beat themselves up. If we reconnect quickly after a blow up, they learn to reconnect quickly.
If we can’t tolerate imperfection in ourselves, our kids will learn not to tolerate imperfection in themselves.
If we make a big deal out of a small mistake, they will make a big deal out of their small mistakes. If we love our kids even when they mess up, they will love others even when they mess up.
As a kid, it was very powerful for my dad to apologize to me. It taught me that he was wasn’t perfect. But–more importantly–it taught me that I didn’t have to be perfect in order to be loved by my dad.
Ultimately, I became less defensive when I made mistakes. I became more compassionate with myself and others, and more willing to reconnect with others when I’d done something that I regretted.
Said in the words of Brené Brown, “Sometimes, when we can’t tolerate imperfection, uncertainty, or vulnerability, we opt out of engagement. Unfortunately, disengagement can be our default…The engaged parenting motto seems to be, ‘I’m not perfect, but I’m here. Open. Present. Willing. Fully engaged.’”
As parents, we make mistakes. This may be humbling, but it’s ok for our kids to see that we aren’t perfect. It is helpful for our kids to also see what to do when mistakes happen.
Kids also forgive easily.
It blew me away the first time one of our kids apologized to me after they had a blow up.
This is how kids learn to apologize authentically and unprompted.
Now we’re curious about you. What is your favorite way to reconnect with your child when you’ve not been the parent that you want to be? Share it below.