Lead by Example: The Power of Apology

By Kimberly Feltes Taylor and Eric Braun, coauthors of How to Take the ACHE Out of Mistakes

Lead by Example: The Power of ApologyImagine your son has a dance recital at 6:00, and he’s nervous. His teacher wants the kids to be there by 5:00 for warm-ups and to get everyone arranged. By 4:00, your son has gotten himself ready and is pacing anxiously around the living room. At 4:30, you check Facebook real quick. At 4:50, you’re still on it. It’s a time suck. At 4:52, your son stamps his foot. “We’re going to be late!”

So you close out of Facebook and hustle to the recital hall. The whole way there, your son fidgets and looks miserable. “We’re going to be late,” he says again.

Sure enough, you arrive at 5:10.

In spite of your son’s nerves, you know that everything is going to be fine. The dance troupe has been ready for a week, and the show will be fabulous. So what do you say to him before he rushes inside? Have fun? Good luck? Don’t worry about it?

How about: I’m sorry.

It’s probably true that those 10 minutes don’t matter in the grand scheme of things (though the dance teacher might be a bit annoyed and probably deserves an apology too). But those minutes matter to your son. And your actions increased his anxiety. An apology can help him feel better.

In our book, we tell kids that saying you’re sorry is an important part of fixing a mistake that hurt someone else. But it can be hard for kids to do. It’s hard for all of us. It can be especially hard for an adult to apologize to a child. Maybe we don’t want to admit fault. Maybe we don’t want to reduce that larger-than-life image that kids have of us—a superhero grown-up who never makes a mistake.

But apologies are powerful. And when an adult apologizes to a kid? That’s doubly powerful. Triply powerful. That’s because we’re validating the child. We’re saying: You are important. Your feelings matter. When those sentiments come from a grown-up kids admire, they pack a punch.

Even if being late wasn’t your fault, an apology might be a good idea. Let’s say you didn’t go on Facebook. Let’s say instead that it was a series of freak events that delayed you—an overturned fuel truck blew up on your ride home and you rode your bike bravely through the wall of flames because you knew your son had that recital, and then at home the dishwasher was spewing soap all over the kitchen and you cleaned it up in record time—and in spite of your Herculean efforts, you ended up late. You didn’t screw up through negligence or spite. But you are late. Your son is upset. And an apology might help him feel better. Why? Because with an apology you’re saying: I know this is important to you, and I didn’t get you there on time. I’m sorry.

Imagine that boy going into the recital feeling important. Feeling heard. His self-confidence spikes.

Even better, you are modeling something healthy, a valuable tool that kids can learn from. You’re teaching that child that it’s okay to admit mistakes, and it’s okay to apologize. In fact, it shows strength. After all, if that superhero grown-up does it, it must be okay.

(That’s you: superhero grown-up!)

Apologizing is not just for parents either. Maybe you’re a teacher, and you promised to have the reading tests graded and returned by Friday, but you didn’t get them done. Doesn’t matter why, and maybe most of the kids don’t care one bit, but this is still a good opportunity to model apologizing. “I’m sorry. I told you I’d have these done by today, but I’m going to need a few more days.” And with just a few words, you’ve set a great example.

See how powerful an apology is!

Kimberly Feltes TaylorKimberly Feltes Taylor has written over 15 books for young people, including the popular Yolanda series of advice books, which provide tips for dealing with peer pressure, family issues, friendship problems, money management, and workplace dilemmas. Kim has also written dozens of classroom magazine articles. She lives in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.


Author Eric BraunEric Braun writes and edits books for readers of all ages, specializing in academic and social and emotional topics. Books he has worked on have won awards and honors including the Eugene M. Emme Astronautical Literature Award, a Foreword Book of the Year Gold Award, a Benjamin Franklin Award, and many others. A McKnight Artist Fellow for his fiction, he earned an MFA in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two sons.

How to Take the ACHE Out of MistakesKimberly and Eric are coauthors of How to Take the ACHE Out of Mistakes

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2 Responses to Lead by Example: The Power of Apology

  1. Pingback: Modeling Conflict Resolution in Super Angry Times | Free Spirit Publishing Blog

  2. Rob S. says:

    Great article on a topic that seems like common sense. No one is perfect, be it a student, teacher, parent, or whomever, so it’s important to acknowledge when one is wrong. I believe that when a teacher apologizes to a student, not only does it strengthen trust between the two, but it ensures a better learning experience.

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