We've all had those moments. Perhaps it happens when we are rushing, juggling several tasks at once, tired, overwhelmed, and, well, human. Our child approaches us and asks for something or ignores us one too many times, and we snap at them. "That's it! I'm done!" we think, and what we say to our child might be even worse. Sometimes, it's down right mean. Then what? The words are out and our child looks stunned and hurt. We temporarily feel better after the initial sense of release one feels when after blowing off steam, but that is quickly replaced by guilt and dread about what we just said and how it has impacted our child.
First thing's first, take a breath. The fact that you snapped at your child probably means that you needed to take a breath several moments before, so take that breath now. Then, take a moment to realize that while no one should make a habit of yelling mean things at their children, it does happen accidentally from time-to-time and I promise, it won't "break" your child. But what you do next can help repair some of the hurt you may have just deliverd to your son or daughter and can help you handle things differently next time. Once you feel composed, the kindest thing you can do for both you and your child is to apologize. The apology doesn't need to be, nor should it be, dramatic or tear filled. It should simply be direct, sincere, and specific. For example, "I'm sorry, that was not a kind thing to say. Mommy loves you and should not use those words." or perhaps, "I'm sorry that I just said that. I didn't mean it and it wasn't nice at all for Dad to say." It can be helpful to offer a bit more reflection, such as, "Yelling never solves anything, I shouldn't have let my frustration get so overwhelming." Keep in mind that an apology is easily undone by turning it into excuse making or subtle blaming. Avoid statements like, "Well, if you had only done what I said..." or "Ya' know, Mommy's had a long day and she has too much to do tonight." That can erode the sincerity of the apology and inadvertently model a failure to take responsibility for our words. After you say "I'm sorry" your child should then be given a moment to respond. Perhaps they will cry or perhaps they will laugh at the fact that, yes, even you, loose your cool some times. The odds are they will simply accept your apology and move on. Let them react and try to move on with them. When we move from parent faux pas to heartfelt apology, we turn an unfortunate moment into a teaching opportunity. We are showing our children that everyone makes mistakes and that the right thing to do afterwards is apologize. We are also sending the message that there is no shame in apologizing.
Our children are not the only ones to potentially learn from these situations.These moments can become insight-producing moments for us, as parents, too. Take a moment to privately reflect on what was really going on for you at that moment. What was overwhelming you? What could you have done differently before things went too far? What could your plan be the next time you start feeling your fuse about to blow? If you start to see these moments happeneing more and more and are increasingly less able to keep your cool, it might be time to reach out to someone for support. This could be a partner, a parent, a friend, or a therapist. We are all human, we all make mistakes, but saying "I'm sorry" and moving forward with a plan can not only help smooth over the bumpy moments, but can help preven more in the future.
For more advice about apologizing to your child check out this article: