(hint: Have You Ever Apologized to Your Child?)
There is a current trend on TikTok of parents “teaching” their toddlers and young children how to crack an egg. The joy and anticipation of baking or cooking with their parent is apparent on every single child’s face as they stand at the kitchen table or counter.
Sadly, the activity takes a turn as the kids are the butt of the joke and the parent cracks the egg on their kid’s forehead. Watching each child’s joy, excitement, and interest transform into shock, confusion, hurt, and even the need to protect themselves is heartbreaking. Parents who participate set out to amuse their virtual audience and gain likes and laughs, but in the process exploit, use, and hurt their children.
As a parent coach, I call these “ruptures” in the parent-child relationship. You might not be cracking eggs on your child’s forehead, but we all make mistakes and hurt the ones we love.
SO YOU SCREWED UP, NOW WHAT? HOW DO WE COME BACK FROM THIS – AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
You are a mirror to your child and their self-worth. We don’t want to teach our children that their feelings don’t matter and that they deserve hurtful words or behavior (especially from us parents) towards them.
Your relationship, your connection with them, is your power. Even if it sometimes doesn’t feel like it, we are the most important people to our children. Thanks to a subconscious awareness that their survival depends on us, our kids’ persistent drive is to be connected to us and have a relationship with us. When our words or actions hurt them, not only does their worth take a hit, but they don’t feel safe and they disconnect from us emotionally. This is a problem because then they no longer want to please us, but will still work to get our attention in a negative way. When our kids feel connected with us, what we think matters to them and they listen and behave better!
You can repair the rupture. It is tempting to think it’s too late and just move on or sweep it under the rug. However, going back and giving the “rupture” your attention with a plan for repair has a huge impact. When we work to repair, it has tremendous weight and meaning to our children because, again, their drive is to be connected to us. Repair can even be more powerful than the rupture, and when done right, your relationship will be stronger for it. It’s never too late.
APOLOGIZING SUCKS, AT FIRST.
Apologizing is no one's favorite thing to do. Just thinking about it can make you squirm and our first choice is to avoid it. Being vulnerable, coming face-to-face with our shame, and asking ourselves “why did I do that?” takes courage. But once you address it head-on, you get to step out of the loop of shame, guilt, or resentment. So be brave and get ready.
Apologizing is a learned skill. Since most of us haven’t learned how to do it beyond a forced “I’m sorry” as a kid, it will take some guidance (below) and practice. Like most skills, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Know you are role-modeling. When you apologize to your kid, you are also role-modeling accountability, vulnerability, bravery, and empathy. All traits we want our kids to have, right?
Live out loud, authentically. Our kids see us as perfect and compare their “flawed” selves to us. When we have these hard conversations, our kids learn that we are human too. Then they think,”If my mom or dad can do it, I can too.” It’s a gift to grow and change alongside our kids.
HOW TO APOLOGIZE TO YOUR CHILD, STEP-BY-STEP.
Invite: Tell your child you have something important you need to talk about with them. Depending on their age, you can invite them to sit with you, one-on-one and immediately, or if they are older, at an agreed-upon time.
Location: Quiet moment together, when you can see their eyes and give full attention (i.e., not whilst driving or making dinner, etc.) but maybe on the couch, at the table (just the two of you), or in their bed at bedtime.
Apologize & Validate: To use the egg-cracking challenge as an example: [Child’s name] I’m sorry that I tried to crack the egg on your forehead and laughed when you said “ouch.” I made a mistake. I was thinking it was a joke, but jokes are not funny when only one of us is laughing. I hurt your feelings and your forehead and I shouldn’t have done that. I love you and I’m sorry.
Commitment: I got sucked into a social media challenge and I won't do that again.
Do a Do-Over: Tell your child that you would like to have a do-over. It can feel awkward at first, but I promise you it is effective and gets easier. Depending on what you are apologizing for, you can respond to their question or comment with different words, in a different tone or volume. In this egg-cracking example, ask for a do-over with a dozen eggs to really practice cracking them in the bowl or even make a cake together!
Every single interaction we have with our children of all ages either connects or disconnects us from them. The disconnects and ruptures can actually offer us an opportunity and the gift of repair, connection, and growth.