Should You Admit to Your Child When You’re Wrong?


Homer Simpson (the prime pop culture example of an ineffective parent) stated on a recent episode, “Parenting: the one job where you always know you’ve done the right thing!”  Any parent who is honest with themselves can recognize the irony and sarcasm in that statement. Making mistakes — and wondering if you’ve done the right thing — just comes with the territory when you’re a mom or dad.

The parent coaching team often talks about role modeling the behavior you want to see in your child.  If you want your child to speak respectfully, it is important for you to treat others with respect, for example.  If you want your child to be honest and refrain from theft, don’t engage in lying or stealing.  This makes sense to people, as most recognize that the old saying is true — actions speak louder than words.  There is one area, though, where we get a lot of resistance from parents: role-modeling accountability.

Why is it so hard to admit when we are wrong?  I think, in general, our society is filled with examples of people displacing well-deserved blame, and putting it on someone or something else.  Considering the prevalence of news stories detailing wacky legal defenses and CEOs claiming no responsibility for their companies’ failures and transgressions against investors, it is very rare indeed to have someone stand up and publicly say, “This is completely and utterly my fault and I fully accept the consequences of my actions.”  I think that if someone were to actually say that, that would be a massive news story in itself!

Our culture is devoted to the idea of “saving face” and protecting one’s image by any means necessary.  It is considered embarrassing and shameful to admit to others that you were wrong.  I hear that shame in the voices of the parents who call in, and tell me about power struggles with their child, and going overboard with consequences.  A common question is “Why won’t my child just admit that he was wrong?”  When I suggest perhaps taking that first step and letting their child know that Mom or Dad was wrong (if they were), I experience a lot of resistance with comments such as “I don’t want to give up my authority in the house.  If I admit that I was wrong, I’m going to look weak and vulnerable.”

I understand this. After all, if you feel that your child is “running the show,” the temptation is very strong to hold onto whatever power you have.  Mistakes, however, are what make us human.  You are more effective as a parent if you show your child how to own up to your mistakes and learn from them in order to move forward in a more positive direction. It’s going to come back around if you try to give off the impression that you never make mistakes, and if you do, it’s the worst thing that can happen to someone, because that’s role modeling, too. And guess who’s watching you and learning from you? As James Lehman says, “Kids watch us for a living,” and that goes for the good lessons we teach as well as the ones we wish we could have a do-over on!

So how can you talk to kids about a mistake you’ve made? Owning up to your errors does not have to be a long, drawn-out conversation about your parenting.  Rather, you can say something like, “Tommy, now that I have had a chance to cool off and think about it, I was wrong to take away all your privileges and possessions because you refused to do your homework.  Next time, I’m going to try to pause and calm down before I give you consequences.  Now let’s talk about how homework time is going to work from now on.”

Saying “I was wrong” may be the hardest three words to get out of your mouth.  Yet, by role-modeling that accountability, you are actually speaking many more three word phrases: “I respect you,” “I am human,” “I love you.”


Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated EmpoweringParents Parent Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.

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