The Beauty of an Apology


by Danelle Spence



Nobody really loves to apologize. Except perhaps, Canadians – ha! But holy-moly, a perfectly worded apology goes a long way in the relationship with your teen (or any relationship, really!).  Of course, it has to be authentic and there is a pretty precise way to do it (read on, for further instructions!). And it certainly does help repair any relationship ruptures that will happen with your teen.

But first, we have to go back to some brain basics…

When we are in an argument, there are a lot of things happening in our brains all at once. One, we are often talking out of the lower reptilian brain, the Amygdala. This is the area that reacts instead of responds, and tried to provide us ‘safety’ when we feel threatened. It is our defensive self, which isn’t wired to think abstractly, take other’s points of view, or use constructive logic. Plus it’s often coming from an anger, frustration, intolerance place. That alone significantly decreases the likelihood or a ‘reasonable’ conversation. The other thing that happens, is the old brain patterns that we have learned from our upbringing, comes online very quickly. These old memory systems flood or “hijack” us. This is when our brains take us are right back to that time we felt criticized in junior high, or when our dads used to make us feel not-good-enough, or that last fight you had…well…you get the picture. You are no longer in the here-and-now, having a current argument.

So knowing conflict activates many parts of our brains, we have to learn to manage and regulate ourselves in disagreements. Conflict is non-negotiable in this world, so to master this skill, is a gift. First, we can be mindful and aware of our old patterns so we aren’t flooded by our past. Second, we should see a counsellor, if old stuff keeps getting in our way of being truly present in an argument. It is here we can learn some techniques & strategies to activate the more rational pre-frontal cortex rather than our reactive amygdala. Lastly, we learn how to repair a rupture, which can significantly deepen relationships.

Here it is:

  1. Acknowledge the unique impact the ‘injury’ may have had.
  2. Express appreciation for what the above must have been like.
  3. Offer at an authentic apology.
  4. Declare what you wish you had done differently.
  5. Wait for the blast (Anger) or denial (“It’s ok, mom”).
  6. Repeat steps 1-4 until it is let in or accepted.

Example 1:

“ I know yesterday when I said that I was disappointed in your math mark, that this upset you (step 1). I can see why you would feel that way because we often have this argument and you thought you worked harder this time (step 2). I am sorry. (step 3). I wish we had a more constructive talk about your grades instead of it turning into a fight. (step 4) ”

 If they come back with “Yeah! I worked my butt off – you do this every time!” Try not to get defensive… say “YEAH BUT”… try not to show you’re hurt.. instead, do steps 1-4 again: “I know. You seemed very invested in your studies. I’m sorry I said what I said. I wish I had approached you better…“ And wait.

 Ok, yes…this will be hard and will take time to master. It also does not have to be in this numerical sequence either – let it be fluid if need be. The most important piece is to acknowledge the impact the fight may have had, and be genuine. Try to empathize with their experience, how this must have felt for them. You learning this essential skill is great role modeling, as all relationships will have some form of disagreement, and the most important part is the repair and resolve. The future and repair part actually deepen relationships. True story! And remember, you are the parent – so you have to be the ‘hero’ and teach your child, not punish your child with guilt OR do everything in your power to ‘win’. Winning may feel good for you, but it doesn’t serve the purpose of having your child be seen, master a skill and grow their developing brains

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About the Author

Danelle Spence

Danelle Spence is a Registered Psychologist with a passion for helping teens effectively manage emotional distress and helping their parents’ understand the complex and developing teenage brain.

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