Mindful Parenting: Apologizing After Yelling at Your Kids

One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is disciplining children. It’s one thing when there’s a time lapse between the moment that a rule is broken and our discovery of it. In those cases, we have the time to calm down naturally, look at the situation objectively, and craft an effective response mindfully.

It’s a totally different experience altogether when rules are broken, items are destroyed, or other types of inappropriate behavior happen right before our eyes. In the thick of things, it can be more difficult to maintain the same perspective of the situation. We tend to react immediately – and sometimes harshly. We can overreact and even snap.

Take this conversation, for example, between two parents at a coffee shop:

Dad: You really shouldn’t have been so hard on Stella yesterday!

Mom: Come on, Frank! She was totally out of control. She was running all over the house with her friend, being crazy wild, and I told her to tone it down a number of times. She just wouldn’t listen! She was being super bratty and irresponsible and she spilled an entire jug of water over my brand new computer. You just can’t dismiss that! There has to be consequences!!

Dad: I know. But you totally yelled at her. That’s not helpful to anyone.

Mom: I agree. But you know how it is…my super expensive computer destroyed, days of work lost, who knows if what I have on there is recoverable?! Plus, she wasn’t self-regulating after I gave her a bunch of requests to do so.

Dad: Still the yelling and then she was so upset, and that letter she wrote! “I'm so so so sorry do whatever you like put me in time out, I love you and you don't have to say you love me back.” It was heartbreaking!! I was in tears.

Mom: You don’t think I wasn’t?! I went to the bathroom and cried my eyes out. The letter was totally sweet and I appreciate her apology and love that she went in there, thought things over, took responsibility for her actions, and owned up.

Dad: I just think you should have gone in and apologized to her for screaming at her. I could see that you felt bad…so why didn’t you?

Mom: I yelled, yes. But it was for a reason. Frank…you don’t get it. I feel like if I get angry and then go in and apologize, it’s confusing. It’s as if I’m setting her up to be a battered woman…reprimanding and then coddling. I think I would be inflicting psychological damage rather than teaching a lesson on actions and consequences.

The conversation illustrates something many of us struggle with. Immediately, without fail, when we get angry with our kids and reprimand them, we’re wracked with guilt. Our instincts is to run back to them, kiss and snuggle them…and act as if nothing happened, or take the blame. But is it always the best option? The mother does make a good point about sending confusing messages, after all.

So how do we apologize for our own inappropriate behavior without excusing theirs?

Take Responsibility for Your Own Bad Behavior

When there is a conflict, we each play a part. In this case, for example, the mother yelled at her child for ruining her property. It’s the yelling that was uncalled for and hurtful to the child. We want our children to feel loved and respected. Yelling at our kids negatively impacts their self-confidence. So not only have we hurt our child emotionally, but we’ve also acted contrary to our own goals as parents. We need to repair that so obviously, an apology is in order.

It’s important to give an unconditional apology that focuses on our own wrongful behavior, which can go something like this, “I was wrong for yelling at you and I am so sorry.” Period. But the apology does not extend beyond that.

Discipline Is A Teaching Moment

While we do need to apologize for our own misbehavior, we need to make it clear that we still stand behind our codes of conduct. Discipline is an important part of parenting and if we start to negate or dilute our messages, our children won’t learn which types of behaviors are acceptable and which are not. Discipline is our way of teaching kids how to follow the rules as they learn about self-control, accountability, and respectfulness. If we don’t uphold and maintain our own family’s rules, how will they understand that society is full of boundaries and rules that we all have to obey?

Time for a Heart-to-Heart

Once we’ve owned up to our actions, we can then sit down and have a heartfelt conversation with our kids. This is the time to circle back to the original incident that triggered our own negative reaction. With distance, we can put what happened into perspective without blaming or belittling our kids. We’re able to calmly remind them not only of our rules, but also of why we have them. Without taking the time to come back to the issue, we won’t be doing our children any favors. Mixed messages will only confuse them and create a cycle of repeated misbehaviors.

A Learning Opportunity for Parent and Child

You’ve role modeled good behavior by apologizing. You’ve stood firm on your family’s rules by circling back with a heart-to-heart conversation. Now what? You’re likely expecting that your child has learned from this experience, and hopefully that’s the case. But don’t overlook the fact that this is a learning opportunity for both parent and child.

While your child ponders their own actions and what they could have done differently, you can take the opportunity to do the same. Evaluate what made you snap. Are there certain triggers that almost always make you lose your cool? In future situations, can you put yourself in a time-out first before responding?

If you both take the time to think through your own actions, you’ll be less like to make the same mistake again.

How do you deal with the aftermath of losing your cool? Apologize immediately or stand firm?

Tags : mindful parenting   conscious parenting   discipline   

Bridgit Sussman
I always sit down afterwards to discuss why they're being disciplined but it's to make sure they get why their actions have consequences, not to apologize
Nikki M
Oh, I can so relate to this. I feel so guilty after disciplining the kids... but at the same time, I don't want to undo the lesson I just taught them! It's so tricky.
Maria Gonzales
There should be consequences to disobedience. We discipline our kids because we love them. It is our obligation as parents to build our kids character.