One of the elements of the Be Your Best program that I bring into Parent Effectiveness Training is the concept of “Cleaning up with your children.” From time to time all parents make mistakes, say things they regret in the heat of the moment – this is very normal. Even after you have mastered the P.E.T. skills you will always have times when you act or speak in reaction. However what matters more to your children than the fact that you have spoken in anger or acted inappropriately is the fact that you take responsibility for your actions and apologise.
Some parents when first encountering the notion of apologising to their children have concerns. They imagine that their children will in some way take advantage of them or have some ‘power’ over them and start to “rule the roost”. However in truth quite the opposite happens. Children tend to respect their parents more and feel taken care of and respected in turn. They have the sense of really mattering and they seem to mature through the process. This kind of modelling and interaction contributes to building the emotional intelligence of our children.
Children who are treated in this way are much more likely to apologise when they too act in a way that causes others distress. They learn it is safe to apologise. Cleaning up our communication with our children clearly demonstrates to children that we all react in ways that do not help us get our needs met and that in cleaning up and apologising we can repair this lapse in relationship and remove any “residue” of ill feeling left with our children. In fact research has shown that relationships where this happens are strengthened not weakened by the apology and a relationship of deeper trust is built.
And it is more than just saying a ‘sorry’. It must be heartfelt and authentic and what better way to disclose your feelings than in the form of and I-message. For example, “I want you to know I am sorry that I spoke loudly to you in that tone. I was upset about something else and I overreacted. I do not want to do this with you because I love/respect/care for you.” You can see that it is more powerful to explain to your child why you are sorry and that you are saying sorry because you value the relationship and that you value communication that is ‘clean’. We also have an opportunity to get more in touch with our own inner self to see what the cause of our reaction and upset.
There is much learning for the receiver in this I-message as you can see, and of course being ready to shift gears and active listen any response from our child that shows they need to be heard is critical.
Whenever we do not clean up in this way we leave a residue between you and the other person that is carried forward to the next interaction. This is counterproductive to the ongoing health of the relationship and has a flow on effect. When we do clean up however the relationship is much warmer and stronger.
The other benefit from this is that your children will be more likely to apologise for their communication that is “off” with you. My children are very quick to apologise for their moods and I have in my keepsakes box some lovely “sorry notes” from over the years, some even elaborately decorated. What a wonderful life skill to have passed on to them.
And yes, cleaning up does take courage and yes it is worth it! Try it and you will see.