Monkey see monkey do. Modeling behavior may be more impactful than correcting it.
Although teaching a child to be accountable is important, modeling accountability may be more effective. Selfish moments and mistakes are inevitable when parenting. Yet, replacing justifications for a parental error with a sincere and simple “I’m sorry” may help ingrain accountability in the child.
This seems so basic, but it’s difficult for a few reasons. First, parents work their fingers to the bone most days in an effort to provide for their child and give the child opportunities that may not have been afforded to them. The amount of sacrifice a parent endures for the sake of their child is incredible. Yet, often this prevents a parent from delivering an authentic apology when the moment arises. After all, it is one small mistake in the midst of a million sacrifices, right? It’s excusable. And it is, but it’s also a chance to model ownership instead of excuses.
For example, say a parent spends 8 hours at a child’s swim meet. They sacrifice a Saturday in order to see a few short, albeit exciting, minutes of action in the water. Yet, the parent stepped out of the swim arena for a few moments to take a work call and she missed her child take first in her third event. After the race the child is upset that her mom missed her race. The parent’s first instinct is to defend herself and remind the child they were present for the first two events and the work call was necessary for maintaining her job. Of course, this does not help the child feel less upset and does not model accountability because the parent is justifying and excusing their transgression.
Although it is tough for a parent to swallow his or her pride and admit a mistake, it is often the quickest way to model accountability for a child. If the parent is able to say, “I am so sorry. I made a mistake. I’m so sorry I hurt you,” the parent is 100% accountable. In addition, they are not making the situation about them because they are focusing on the child and empathizing with the child’s feelings. - chances are good, the child will internalize this experience, allowing them to be accountable when they make a mistake.
Second, parents want to maintain their position of authority. Often, they believe if they lose their position of authority, they’ll lose control. Yet, the opposite is often true. When a parent makes themselves vulnerable to a child by admitting fault, they are communicating to the child that owning a 9mistakes is important and necessary. The child realizes that power or control does not excuse a person from accountability, which helps the child acquire humility and responsibility.
Third, often the parent does not want to apologize because the child made mistakes as well and the parent is focused on the child’s mistakes and ignoring their own. However, if the parent takes responsibility for their part in the conflict, the child will be more likely to own their negative behaviors.
A parent who is never wrong in their relationship with a child, will raise a child who is never wrong in their relationship with a parent.