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All Parents Make Mistakes With Their Kids. Here’s How to Make Amends.

It’s inevitable you will hurt your child in the process of parenting them, whether through your words or actions. Here’s how to heal and move forward.
Last Updated
April 22, 2019
posted on
June 25, 2020
Minute Read

Making mistakes as a parent is an inevitable part of the journey. In fact, a recent survey found that the average parent will make 4,000 parenting mistakes in the first 18 years of his child’s life. That might sound like a lot to you. That might sound like not very much. Either way, know that you are not alone in worrying about the mistakes you’re making with your kids.

I think fathers can be particularly hard on themselves in this area, especially if you are away at work all day while Mom stays home or you aren’t around as much as Mom is. You have less time with your child and want to make the most of it. Instead, you feel like you blow it by getting angry and yelling, or by missing an event, or by not handling a conversation with your teen daughter in the right way.

As parents, we can hurt our kids with our words and actions. That’s unavoidable, but you don’t have to feel helpless or paralyzed by guilt afterward. You can repair the damage you’ve done, and you don’t have to buy your child gifts or “make it up to them.” Simply talk to them. Here’s how.

First, own the Guilt.

One of the hardest things for a parent to do is admit to really hurting our children. It’s easier to simply believe that what we did wasn’t so bad. This is the worst thing you can do. Own up to hurting your child deeply. If you pretend your actions didn’t hurt that badly, your children will feel that you aren’t sincere.

Ask for forgiveness and be specific while doing so.

It is important to tell your child that you are sorry, but don’t stop there. Ask him to forgive you for what you did. And don’t be vague. If you said something mean, follow up with, “Please forgive me for calling you _____.” Being specific is important to a child because it lets him know that you really understand how wrong you were and how much you hurt him.

Be persistent.

Most children don’t want to forgive a parent right away because they’re hurt. If your child tells you he doesn’t want to accept your apology, don’t get angry, ask him again one week later. It is important to give your child time to get over the offense you committed.

If the hurt was really bad and occurred over several years, your child will take longer to forgive you. This stems from the fact that he doesn’t know if he can trust you to be sincere. He wants to know he can trust you not to hurt him again if he forgives you.

Tell him you will work on change.

Make a verbal commitment to your child to work hard on changing your actions.

If you yell, tell her that you will work hard on stopping the yelling. If you call names, swear, whatever, be specific about what you intend to change and tell this to your child.

Also, ask your child to let you know if you are slipping. Keeping your “problem” out in the open helps diffuse the power that it has over your children to hurt them. Things kept in secret feel bigger.

Parents, you can’t undo the past. What’s done is done. But even if you’ve made 4,000 mistakes, you can still make amends with your child. You can choose how you respond to what you’ve said or done. Ask for forgiveness. Promise to do better. Then, actually do better. These simple acts will go a long way.

Dr. Meg Meeker, MD

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello @MegMeekerMD

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