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Two Words to Say to Your Child


Confession: This weekend, I lost my temper…

I was tired, and seven-year-old Anton was fussing about putting his dessert bowl away, and it was a pandemic winter, and I just snapped.

“Anton, ugh!!! I don’t want to hear it!” I shouted. “Go to your room! Right now! Enough!”

He stormed off in tears.

I sat there on the sofa, knowing that I’d overreacted. At first, I felt guilty. But you know what’s funny? My friend Lina Perl, a brilliant therapist and mother of two, says these “ruptures” can actually be a good thing.

“I talk to a lot of people who feel like bad parents if they yell at their kids, but good parents make mistakes all the time,” she told me. “You’ll get annoyed with your kids, they’ll hurt your feelings and vice versa, you’ll lose it with them. No two people are ever totally attuned to each other.”

And, she points out, these conflicts are actually necessary. It’s how we teach kids to manage the difficult emotions of being disappointed, let down, scared, etc. And, afterward, you have the amazing opportunity to reconnect or “repair.”

What does repairing mean?

You want to go back to your child when things are calmer, explains Lina: “Say, ‘I didn’t feel great about yelling today; I got really frustrated, but I don’t want to yell like that, and I’m sorry if I scared you.’ In that moment, you’re acknowledging your role and theirs. And give space: ‘Was that scary for you? How did you feel?’ You are reconnecting. You’re basically saying: I’m a good person, you’re a good person, we’re all trying our best.”

In doing this, Lina explained, you’re doing two powerful things:
1) You’re modeling what it’s like to take responsibility for your actions. You don’t have to pretend it didn’t happen, and you don’t have to apologize aggressively. You’re modeling what healthy repair is like.
2) You’re reconnecting with your kids. Imagine if your own parent had come back and said, wow, I don’t feel good about what happened, let’s talk. How healing would that be? How much better would you feel? You’re helping them feel like good people and you’re showing that even people who lose it are good people — you can always try again. You’re showing them that they, too, can lose it sometimes, and they can come back and repair it!

There’s no perfect way to do this — but if the feeling you all have at the end is having your experience be acknowledged, then you’ve done a great job. “Just circling back and making an effort to reconnect after something like that is SO GREAT,” says Lina.

So, I knocked on Anton’s bedroom door.

“Mommy?” said his little voice.

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “Can we talk?”

Thoughts? Do you ever apologize to your children? My mom once apologized for overreacting when I was five years old, and I’ve always remembered it.

P.S. How to be a better listener, and talking to kids.

(Photo by Cheryl Rosaria/Stocksy.)


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