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When Saying Sorry to a Child Does More Harm Than Good

29/09/2014 15:25 BST | Updated 29/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Two simple words: "I'm sorry". This said from a parent to a child can have a huge and positive impact. It says it's OK to make mistakes and be human. It teaches them the art of humility and that admitting a wrong doesn't mean being weak. It instills a sense of safety and security.

However, there is one time when saying sorry does more harm than good. Having been one of those parents who had practiced this many times, until someone gently pointed out how I was coming across, I've now stopped.

This one time I'm talking about is when I've said 'I'm sorry' but what I really wanted was relief from my own uncomfortable feelings of being a dysfunctional parent or to be allayed of my guilt.

It took me a while to get my head around what my friend was meaning because I thought the fact I was saying sorry was a good thing. My parent's had never said sorry for their mistakes and, as a result, I found it uncomfortable apologizing to my children. It felt as though the balance of power was all out of sync. Surely, I shouldn't be apologizing to my child?? But I persisted because I didn't want to follow my parents' lead.

So when my friend heard me apologizing to my child about being late to pick them up but flagged that I was looking for forgiveness from my son so I'd feel better about not being on time, I took a step back and had a good look at what she was saying.

What I recognized that by wanting my child to forgive me, I'm actually trying to cajole him in to making me feel better. If , when I was late, he'd said 'it's OK mummy' I used to feel everything was nicely smoothed over when in fact I'd, without knowing it, not heard his feelings of annoyance about being the last one left in the play ground.

I've now turned this around by allowing my son to express how he feels about a situation before I jump in with my apologies. I often find it uncomfortable. There's no one more direct than your child telling you how it is, especially when they turn into a teen. I've noticed that I also try to tease out unsolicited compliments or positive statements to boost my self esteem but, again, at the cost to my child. In order to assuage my guilt or low worth, he has to ignore his own needs.

So, now I stop and think 'what are my motives?' before I apologize or prod my children into talking. I'd like to share with you what I've learnt and hope you will add your own thoughts on this subject:

Forgive yourself first, then apologize to the child

Apologize for one thing but avoid bring up all the other things you think you've done wrong

Check out your motive for saying sorry; are you looking for them to forgive you?

• Instead teach them that saying sorry is not a weakness

• If you feel desperate for a child's forgiveness, speak to another adult first and relieve the child of the burden of your guilt

Don't get on your knees and beg forgiveness!

Take responsibility for your actions by explaining what happened and why you will be mindful about it not happening again

We lie when we think that getting caught for a mistake is worse than the mistake. Apologizing (without expecting the child to make us feel better) teaches a child that living with the lie is worse than admitting their mistake. We can prepare our children to take responsibility for their own actions by teaching them to say sorry without strings attached. And, the best way we can do that is by doing it ourselves.