Not a specific situation, but how do you help your child with the moments in which either 1. You've made a mistake, or 2. Someone else in their life has, that affects them. Again, not about the specifics, but as a few examples of those moments -when you've lost your temper and regret something you've said or done -when another significant person in their life has -when relationships end (not romantic per se - when friendships change)

  1. How do you apologize without rehashing?
  2. How do you help children understand that things change in ways bigger than they can understand?

I realize this is a fairly vague question, but life keeps going and we keep being human long after children. This is what no books seem to address.

  • 2
    These are two separate questions and should really be asked separately.
    – Warren Dew
    Sep 30, 2016 at 9:36

3 Answers 3


Explain what your mistake was and why it was a mistake, apologize, and promise to do better in the future, just like you would with an adult.


I see at least two questions hiding in this one, since it covers several different kinds of situations, so I will try to tackle them separately.

First is the question of what you do when you have made a mistake that affects your child. I would say that the appropriate course would be to point out what was exactly wrong in your behaviour and why (depending on the age, you can try to elicit the answer from the child first) and to apologise accordingly. When you do this, I think it is a good idea to identify the feelings that led to the situation as well as the feelings that resulted (on both sides) from the situation. This way you are turning something a bad event into a learning experience that will help your child (and maybe you) and increase their emotional intelligence. It will also present them with appropriate course of action for when they do something bad or hurtful.

Now, if someone else did something that had (what you perceive as) an adverse effect on your child, maybe it is better to ask for the child's perspective first. Ask them how they feel and what they think has happened. As adults, sometimes we forget that children tend to find explanations for anything happens around them. We might find those explanations "wrong", "childish", "misguided" or at least incomplete, but as soon as their verbal skills develop sufficiently, they start finding ways to explain phenomena around them, both social and natural. So, instead of trying to "help children understand that things change in ways bigger than they can understand", you should work together with them to forge an understanding of an event that suits their level of development (no matter how "childish" it may seem). The one thing I hated being told as a kid was "you will understand such-and-such when you get older"!

In your example, a change in friendship is something that already falls within the scope of experience of a typical five-year-old. In their case it might have been about something we find trivial, like another kid from preschool who would not share a toy, but the feelings and experience they get out of this situation are real and this can form a basis for their understanding of a similar situation between grown-ups. :)


For this, I use the mnemonic RAAP:


Recognize what you could and will do differently. It is much more encouraging to focus on what you can change, the possibilities of new choices, and the outcomes you can design with new actions


This is about admitting to what you recognized "I admit that yelling wasn't the way to communicate respectfully", for example. Don't get wrapped up in self pity. Acknowledgement is more appropriate. Blame keeps you stuck. See things for how they are, not worse, just see them for how they are.


"I see, (or I feel) I could've done, acted, spoken, responded (whatever is appropriate) another way, and I am sorry for how my actions, words, etc. affected you, hurt you etc. I PROMISE TO BE AWARE AND ACT DIFFERENTLY THE NEXT TIME I AM IN THIS SITUATION." (The apology has to come with commitment and a promise.)


"So this is my plan to do differently... The next time I will stop and walk away until we can both speak respectfully" or "the next time I will write you a note that tells you how I feel, and you can read it as soon as you are ready" or, "I will bring up the issue at the next family meeting" or any way you will act differently. This isn't about what you will make someone else do, but about what you will do differently.

Best to You and your family.

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