So you just yelled at your kid. Now what?
Well, if I know one thing with certainty about parenting, it’s this: There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. (I’m not one either.) Struggles come with the job. And yet we often don’t know what to do after we mess up. Should we just move on and pretend it never happened? Or if we do talk about it, what do we say?
Here’s a truth that helps answer this question: It’s not yelling that terrifies our kids as much as it’s the combination of yelling and then not repairing that terrifies our kids. We tend to tell ourselves, “I’ve messed up my kid forever,” and become resigned to it. Instead, though, we can tell ourselves, “All is not lost. It’s not too late. I can repair.”
Repair is the act of returning to a moment of disconnection, taking responsibility for your behavior, and acknowledging its real impact on another person. Whenever parents ask me what one parenting strategy they should “get good” at, I always say the same thing: repair. Repair increases connection and cooperation in the short term, protects your child’s mental health in the long term, and sets the stage for healthy adult relationship patterns. There is no parenting strategy that has as much impact as repair, so let’s jump into exactly how to do it.
The 3 Steps of Repair
- Mess up. What? That’s step one? Yes. After all, we can’t repair if we haven’t ruptured. Stop telling yourself that you’re an awful parent and start reminding yourself that you’re on the path to repair.
- Repair with yourself. We have to find our own groundedness and compassion before we share these qualities with others. We cannot repair from a place of self-loathing or panic.
- Repair with your child. There’s no magic formula here, but I often think about three things: Name what happened, take responsibility, and say what you’d do differently next time.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: I wouldn’t have yelled if they weren’t so rude. Doesn’t my child need to take responsibility for that? What if it’s just too late to repair? I mean, can it be too late? I answer these very common questions—and more—in my TED talk; by then end, you’ll have a new skill you can use right away in your home.
And because parents tell me how much they love my “scripts”—words that put ideas into action—I created a (free) repair guide. It’s full of scripts for repairing with your kid, partner, colleague, or friend.
Becky Kennedy, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, mom of three, and author of the New York Times–bestselling book Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be.