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Top 10 Reasons Parents Should Admit Their Mistakes

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We all know the adages….”nobody is perfect”and “everyone makes mistakes”.  Yet, as parents, we push ourselves toward perfection and the teaching point for our kids is that they should expect perfect parenting when we forge ahead with parenting faux pas and omitted apologies.  At the same time, parents often push their kids for apologies, particularly when emotional or physical injury has taken place to the person receiving the apology.  Kids and adolescents rate parent apologies as extremely important, which makes sense as parents who are able to be transparent around their mistakes have kids that demonstrate lower levels of anxiety and depression.  So let’s explore the importance of parenting apologies….

  •  Parents who apologize reflect the importance of “I’m Sorry”:  Apologies are integral to relationships at all ages.  As younger children learn the function of the emotion ‘guilt’, older children and adolescents learn to make a distinction between justified and unjustified guilt.  Parents who are able to not only apologize, but provide some transparency around their error, the context of what happened and why they are apologizing help children and adolescents provide apologies and learn the importance of “I’m sorry” rather than suffering with justified guilt.


sorry photo

  • Apologies are key in building parent-child trust:  As parents, we often look at ‘building trust’ as a child-focused activity when, in reality, all relationships require bi-directional trust.  When anyone takes responsibility for their actions and is willing to make repairs and work toward avoiding the same mistake again, we build trust in the relationship.  Why would we not prioritize building trust in our most important relationships with their kids?


  • It lets our kids off the hook:  As parents, it is easy to enjoy our status of decision maker, home controller and reward/punishment provider.  When we make mistakes, especially in our parenting, it is easy to want to preserve these tasks AND our the perception that our actions are ‘right’ and rooted in confidence.  Apologizing is often the effective action and actually helps kids see the confident in our parenting when we are perfect parents and, especially, when our actions are not as perfect as we might like.


  • Apologies can soften our mistakes in the eyes of our kids:  The manner in which we use our language can be really important.  When we are exhausted because our boss is acting like a jerk, we are on a tight work deadline, we are struggling in an important relationship with someone and/or we are running on 4 hours of sleep, it makes sense that we would not be our optimal selves.  The difference between a parent blaming tough circumstances for a parenting mistake and taking responsibility for the parenting mistake and asking for forgiveness and help around difficult circumstances can be the difference between our kids experiencing resentment of their parent and compassion for their mistakes.


  • Apologies help teach the importance of “being effective” versus “being right”:  While it feels great when we are both effective and right, parenting (and adolescent-ing) often lands on the choice point of being effective or right.  When we apologize, parents have the opportunity to land heavily on the side of being human, transparent and effective in our parenting.  As kids head through their developmental tasks, the ‘right versus wrong’ often yields to the relationship-building and sustaining ‘right versus effective’.  Parenting can help teach and mirror that important lesson that will provide future dividends in relationships, school, work and life.


  • Apologies often help others understand the wisdom in our intentions:  While this can be a tricky one to execute (no one enjoys the ‘sorry but’ statement!), being transparent in the intentions of what we were aiming for coupled with an equally strong apology can be reassuring to hear and relationship building.  In contrast, not providing the apology or context of what we were thinking/doing or skipping the apology all together allows for kiddo interpretations that may not be accurate and can often be harsher than intended (Mom did this because she cares more about my brother than me).


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  • Parents are role models and the most effective teacher of values:  While we don’t often consider apologizing a value per se, it is an integral component in building effective relationships.  In addition, the more comfortable we are with our own faults and mistakes, the easier it is to admit them and, often, the more understanding and forgiving others can be when we don’t live up to an expectation others place on us.


  • Parents who apologize have to get in the minds of their kids……and vice versa:  A parent’s inherent ability to jump in their kids shoes (or anyone’s, for that matter) is a tool that builds compassion and relational effectiveness.  Considering how someone may have felt during a difficult situation or interaction can only benefit the relationship and is a great teaching point for kids and teens who are using their adolescent years to learn how get out of their own heads and consider another person’s point of view and feelings.


  • I learned it from you!:  Looking for an experiential way to teach kids how important it is to take responsibility for their actions and miscues?  Nothing teaches apologies better than an effective “I’m Sorry”.  Much like our expectations for our kids, don’t forget to make the repair and work hard to not make the same mistake to add value to the apology.


  • Try to avoid looking for mistakes:  Are there only 9 tips in spite of the article promising 10?  Yes.  And shame on you for counting!  In the spirit of effective apologies, I am genuinely sorry for titling the article prior to writing it and creating an article with 9 rather than 10 tips.  Have more effective tips for apologies?  Feel free to write them in the comments section.
Top 10 Reasons Parents Should Admit Their Mistakes

Jim Holsomback

Jim Holsomback (MA; ABT) is the director of clinical outreach for McLean Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts and program director for Triad Adolescent Services, located in Lexington, Massachusetts. He has more than 20 years of experience working with adolescents and families struggling with anxiety, depression, substance use disorders and self-injury. Jim has a vast amount of experience teaching and supporting families struggling to identify ways to establish effective family systems as well as presenting in regional and national trainings and conferences on topics such as contingency management, digital and substance dependence and supporting parents of preteens and adolescents struggling with self-harm & suicidality.

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APA Reference
, . (2018). Top 10 Reasons Parents Should Admit Their Mistakes. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 9, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 May 2018
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