Nothing turns rage into forgiveness into weak-kneed love quite like the words “I’m sorry Daddy.” That said, the tremulous phrase can be overused and often is by young girls, who experience tremendous social pressure to acquiesce to authority and, perhaps particularly, to male demands. If a parent hears “I’m sorry” coming from the mouth of a child that has nothing in the world to be sorry for, alarm bells should go off. It’s not a naughty behavior, but it’s a habit that ought to be broken.
“Women are socialized to avoid conflict,” says Marti Dixon, a licensed clinical counselor with 20 years of experience in education and psychotherapy. “I think one of the best ways to do that is to apologize, even when they’re not sorry, even when they didn’t feel like they did something wrong, just to stop the conflict from occurring.”
Lack of confidence is often the culprit. Men are applauded for having strong opinions. Women are generally rewarded when brokering deals and compromising. Of course, this isn’t universal, just generalizations, Dixon says, but it’s common.
Parents who have over-apologizers as daughters, or as sons, may need to reframe some of their communications to sound less accusatory. “Children of critical parents grow up to be unsure of themselves, uncertain of their own abilities,” she says. “Apologizing is their way of saying they’re unsure of their opinion.”
Therefore, the easiest way to get past the apologies is to validate the opinions of young girls (when doing so actually makes sense, they aren’t all gold). So, if she says she wants to go to grab pizza tonight instead of cooking dinner, don’t simply say no. Instead, ask questions. “Why? How do you feel about this other option?” You don’t have to cave to validate. In essence, you’re teaching your daughter to be a better arguer without altering the tone of your voice.
How to Stop a Young Girl From Apologizing
- Be real: Admit your own failings
- Validate her assertions, whether or not you agree with them
- Educate her on the validity of her feelings. There’s no such things as wrong feelings.
- Encourage her to keep an open dialogue with you
- Practice scenarios in which she can assert her feelings in an open and non-judgmental environment so when she’s in a less accepting environment she can remain assertive
Dixon said Sigmund Freud’s theory holds true, in her experience. “Freud’s theory was everything you learn as a child is what creates what kind of an adult you become,” she explains. “We’re born with a clean slate. You don’t have any behaviors that are in-born. They’re all learned. If you teach a kid to be confident, then they won’t be a child that apologizes all the time.”
So what if a daughter is already apologizing all the time?
Try saying this: Hey, I’ve noticed you apologize for a lot of things that aren’t your fault. You have a lot of great ideas, and sometimes I don’t think I listen enough to you. I’m going to try to do better at that.
If your daughter feels heard and understood, she’ll likely stop apologizing. There’s an assertive person in all of us.