Dads, we’ve all been there. You make a mistake or express a frustration in a way that leaves you feeling ashamed and guilty. Maybe to avoid dealing with it, you ignore the elephant in the room because you don’t know how to apologize to your child. You hope the entire situation would just be forgotten.

The awkward silence—or maybe the tears—cause you to deal with your child’s emotions. In fact, it causes you to deal with how you feel inside, too. 

It is in that moment that you need to realize it is never too late to say sorry. Your humility is the much-needed solution to mend the situation and the relationship. Here are four steps you can take to own your screw-up and restore the relationship with your child.


1. Take Responsibility For Your Actions


It’s important for you to express your emotions, whether you are frustrated, angry, sad, or upset—you don’t have to suppress them. When you bottle up your emotions, there will always be a boiling point. There are strategies for expressing emotions in healthy ways, but for now we’ll focus on what to do when you’ve already hit the boiling point. You have yelled, slammed the door, and you feel as if you are at the point of no return. Take a deep breath and recognize that that’s not true. There’s no such thing as the point of no return. There’s grace for your actions. 

The first step is to own your mistakes by admitting you were wrong. You may need to take a few moments to calm down—and to allow your child to calm down. Then your conversation can be as simple as telling your child specifically where you messed up: When I slammed the door and yelled “I’ve had enough!”—I wasn’t patient, kind, or respectful of you. That was wrong of me.


2. Tell Them Why You Are Sorry

You ought to tell them you are sorry. It’s never too late. It’s important to note here that there are wrong ways to apologize. Don’t apologize by placing blame on the child, by making it seem as if their actions, whether good or bad, justifies our outburst. 


Your apology demonstrates a powerful reality to your child. Admitting that even Daddy has to receive forgiveness from his child models humility and reinforces the fact that no one is perfect. We want our children to know that it requires courage to take responsibility for one’s actions and to apologize.


3. Sympathize With Them

It is comforting that Jesus actually sympathizes with us is in the area of our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). Do you know how to sympathize with your child? Or do you require them to put away their feelings? We should not encourage them to suppress their emotions. Ask them how the situation made them feel—and make sure you really listen to them. By sympathizing with your children, you help them know how to embrace and express their emotions. You might want to share a similar story to connect with them, but show how you were the one forgiving.


4. Ask For Forgiveness


Here’s when you ask them to forgive you. I remember asking my son one day, “Son, do you forgive daddy for not being kind to you?” I could see him processing the meaning behind, saying, “I forgive you, Daddy.” I want him to know that daddy is not perfect and will continue to fail. I don’t want my son to see me as a super-human. Through my weakness and failing, I want to point him to Christ. That requires a deep sense of knowing what it means to be forgiven in order to turn to my son and ask for forgiveness.

The greatest picture of this is the work of Jesus on the cross. Throughout the entire Bible, we see a recurring theme of God’s plan to redeem and restore the broken relationship between God and man.

Now I know this process is difficult at times. You may not have had a father that apologized. Maybe your dad made you feel guilty the majority of the time. This process helps you to know there is strength in admitting when you got it wrong. It may feel easier to pretend you have it together or justify yourself when you screw up. But it’s not helpful and it will lead to broken relationships. What is helpful for you and your child is to know that you are going to fail—and that’s okay. 


  1. Describe a time when you had to apologize to your child.
  2. How did your child respond to you asking for forgiveness?
  3. How have you sympathized with your child or how can you work toward this in the future?

Michael Davis is the Teaching Pastor at Downtown Church in Memphis, TN and serves on the board of Presbyterian Day School. He is married to Serena, and they have one son, Michael “MJ” Davis Jr. Michael is passionate about the gospel, expositional preaching, and shepherding and equipping the people of God. He also enjoys sports, photography, BBQ, jazz music, and spending time with his family.