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The Importance of Repair

February 15, 2024

Many notable psychologists have suggested the same parenting tactic over the years, naming it as the single most important tool a parent needs. Dan Siegel, Tina Payne Bryson, Susan Stiffelman, Becky Kennedy and others all agree that accountable parents know how to repair and circle back after a rupture with their child, thereby changing the trajectory of that kid’s life.

Without thoughtful repair and connection from a parent after he or she blows up, for example, a child is left to blame himself for that disruption. As Dr. Becky reminds us, the child concludes: ❝I must be unlovable❞ or ❝Something’s wrong with me.❞ It’s actually adaptive for a child to internalize fault or blame because doing so allows the child to hold on to the crucial belief that their parents and the world are safe and good. This is not where we want our kids to land. Adults with self-blame end up with depression, anxiety and deep feelings of worthlessness.

Instead, when parents show up after a blow-up as accountable adults with a genuine apology and a recognition of how they can improve, they model for their kids how to connect and repair in the face of a mistake. They help the child change the meaning he assigns to that painful event, and they demonstrate responsibility for wrong-doing instead of allowing the child to assume that he caused that out-of-line behavior.

Not only does it foster trust between parent and child, but accountability of this kind also moves the child from self blame to self trust. In other words, the child gets to think this thought: ❝The feelings I had were spot-on, they were right. My reaction to that moment was correct.❞ No gaslighting here, just a lesson in the importance of trusting your gut.

Also, repair provides an opportunity for skill-building once both parties calm down and return to normal. A child who feels respected and connected is often open to learning and instruction, unlike a child who feels blamed or disrespected. In other words, a return to the original conflict that caused the blow-up is possible, but this time the parent can bring love, patience, and respect to the situation, thereby encouraging cooperation from the child.

Finally, circling back with a kid in an attempt to own your missteps shows a kid how to do the same thing. You model how to be a decent and trustworthy human who is accountable. Modeling is always a more effective parenting strategy than trying to control a kid’s behavior.