ASK: When is it OK for a parent to say 'I'm sorry'?

Orenstein Solutions is in Cary.
Orenstein Solutions is in Cary.

This week, Dr. Joel Dillon of Orenstein Solutions in Cary offers advice on what to do when you, the parent, make a mistake.

Parents make mistakes: people make mistakes, and parents are people, aren’t they? It is important to apologize when your mistake hurts someone. However, how to apologize to your children is a point of debate.

Some parents believe that apologizing to your children for your own misbehavior demonstrates weakness by exposing cracks in their “perfect parenthood.” Others believe that total transparency with children can help facilitate a firm understanding of reality. The issue is not which approach is correct: both approaches have their place and can clearly communicate a lesson. Parents need to realize when their child needs one approach or the other.

To understand what a child might hear from an apology, we must first look at what an apology is. It is an acknowledgment of hurting someone or something or of breaking a rule. It is important to understand (as the one apologizing) that you are not defined by your failures. Making mistakes is an inevitable part of being human, and acknowledging these mistakes can be a learning experience for everyone.

As a parent you are not only the rule maker, but also a role model. Apologizing to your children communicates many important life lessons. First, it communicates our humility and the value of acknowledging our shortcomings and mistakes. Secondly, apologies teach children about compassion and forgiveness. Thirdly, the process of forgiveness depicts a realistic view of relationships: the ups and the downs, and everything in between. Once you come to terms that you are not perfect, let your child know. Let your child learn about relationship repair, which involves being human, making and acknowledging mistakes, and gaining life lessons.

So the next time you find yourself with the finger pointing at you, apologize. If your child is the object of the mistake, or if he or she was simply present, take advantage of this moment and teach them the importance of apologies. Something to remember: how you treat others is a direct reflection of how you treat yourself.

If you have a question about your child's health or happiness, ask the folks at Orenstein Solutions or any of our experts by sending email to

Dr. Joel Dillon is a psychologist with Orenstein Solutions in Cary who offers services to children and adults with disruptive behaviors, ADHD, substance abuse and anger management difficulties. Contact Orenstein Solutions at (919) 428-2766, ext. 0, or visit for more information.