Do you hear your child constantly apologizing for things that aren’t even offensive? Here’s how to improve your kid’s confidence (and yours as well!).
My nine-year-old daughter sighed and stared out the car window at the glow of the street lamps. I could hear the annoyance in her voice.
“I don’t want to talk about it”
Ugh… roadblock. And it had been such a tame conversation.
She told me about how the class had to write a lot that night. Writing during dance class? Totally weird to me. So, I asked her,
“What did you have to write during dance class?”
Bam Total shut down. She clammed up. I had asked one too many questions.
“Ok. That’s fine.” I clenched my jaw. I asked one simple question. Why did she have to treat me like this?
Then, she turned me and said, “I’m sorry.” Not a heartfelt, “I’m sorry.” Rather, the apology dripped with guilt and fear that she had deeply offended me and didn’t want me to be mad at her.
I felt bad.
Because I knew exactly how she felt. She had her reasons for not wanting to talk at that given moment, but she felt those reasons invalid.
That’s not a message I want her to internalize.
Why do we feel the need to say I’m sorry so much?
When a girl apologizes a lot, it may seem like she’s being polite but it undermines her own opinions, thoughts, and emotions to herself as well as the world.
Growing up, we received tons of conflicting messages about how we’re supposed to behave.
- We need to be confident, but not at the risk of offending someone else.
- We should be assertive, but not bossy.
I’ve run into these contradictions over and over.
I used to teach at a challenging school. We taught wonderful kids, but in a difficult demographic – over 98% of our students qualified for free or reduced lunch. Our kids ranked near the bottom in the district on state tests.
I knew that I could be teaching and managing more effectively. So I volunteered to lead book studies, be on committees, offer my opinions when other colleagues had issues.
And some people didn’t like that.
We worked in a two-story school where the lower grades (k-1st) taught on the first level and the upper grades (2nd-5th) taught on the second. One of my fellow teachers bestowed on me the nickname “upstairs boss” and used it to make fun of me behind my back.
And… oh, when I heard it. I felt crushed.
I stopped sharing as much, avoided this other teacher in the hallways for a solid month and apologized…APOLOGIZED…for being so assertive.
I wish I could’ve ignored her comments, or used it as fuel to keep going, or given myself permission to drink a large glass of Cabernet and move on.
But no, I stewed, worried and felt like I did something inherently wrong.
Why do girls apologize more than guys?
A 2010 study asked both women and men to keep a journal listing all of their offenses and whether they offered an apology or not.
Researchers found that both sexes apologized in equal numbers when they believed they committed an offense.
Surprising? Wait for it…
They found that women believed they’d committed more offenses than the men did. The study suggests that men have a higher threshold for what they consider offensive behavior.
That makes sense.
When a girl says sorry a lot…
Usually, it’s a behavior she has learned.
In one of my recent therapy sessions, my counselor told me, “kids are like mirrors. They reflect exactly what they see.”
This reflection can be incredibly painful and rather sobering, but it always shows you the truth of your own actions.
Since then, I’ve taken a hard look at how often I apologize around my daughter.
- I ask my husband to grab my son’s soy milk out of the fridge: “I’m sorry, I’m eating, can you get it?”
- My son throws a tantrum because he has no socks: “I’m sorry, I haven’t gotten to folding the laundry yet.”
- My daughter asks me why I can’t have lunch with her at school, “I’m sorry, I have to work.”
Many times when I have to ask someone to do something or I’m too busy, I apologize away what I perceive as my own inadequacies to soften the blow of what I think is bad news.
It’s crazy when I step back to look at it.
Now, I’m hyper-aware of when I want to apologize and ask myself,
- Did I really do something wrong?
My answer is usually no.
Your feelings are valid
And so are your kids’ emotions.
I’ve slightly changed my verbiage when telling my daughter she can’t do something. For instance, this weekend she wanted to invite a friend over.
My old response: I’m sorry, but we’re too crazy this weekend.
My new response: That’s a great idea. It does sound like fun. Unfortunately, we have a lot planned.
If I express regret over delivering the bad news, my daughter gets the message that she should feel bad for asking. Of course, she shouldn’t. When I reaffirm her own wants as valid, she learns that she has nothing to apologize for.
The same goes for not wanting to talk about her last two hours in dance class with me in the car.
After she gave her guilty apology, I turned to her that night and told her,
“You don’t have to talk about it. You’re tired.”
“But you’re upset with me,” she responded.
“I’ll get over it. It’s not your job to make me happy. That’s my choice.”
“But, I want to make you happy…”
“I know.” She kept staring out the window.
The constant apologies aren’t something that we’ll be able to fix in one night. When we’re aware of our own tendency to apologize and validate our kids strong feelings, we can help lessen their frequency.