Teach Kids How to Apologize

While I'd love to report that harmony reigns in our household at all times, this isn't the case.  On occasion, the kids fight.  I use the phrase "on occasion" liberally here.  I could use it to imply occasionally, as in "On occasion, I order shrimp scampi when I dine out," but this isn't my intention.  I'm inferring a more inclusive, frequent application of the phrase, as in "On occasion, I breathe."

There's some regularity to it.

The girls have established a pecking order by age.  Reese targets Brooke.  Brooke targets Kerrington.  Kerrington just bides her time, baby style, waiting for the day when she'll make her presence known, most likely in the form of her little emergent teeth and some low-to-the-ground exposed body part belonging to an unsuspecting older sibling that's ripe for biting.

Of course, we encourage good behavior, the consideration of others, and the use of words, not fists or teeth.  We share with each girl that God created her and her sisters, and that we are to love and treat one another with kindness.  When wrongs have been committed, we're working on apologizing properly.

As adults, we intuitively know that there's a wrong way to apologize.  Tone of voice plays a role in this, as does eye contact.  An under-the-breath mumble is not as convincing as an "I'm sorry" that's clearly articulated.  Whining diminishes the sincerity.  Eye rolling kills it entirely.  We're teaching the girls that there's an anatomy to an apology.

Part One: the admission.  Here is where the words "I'm sorry" must be said clearly, without the previously mentioned nonverbal elements that would suggest the opposite.

Part Two: the specifics.  This is when the child must name the action for which she's sorry.  "I'm sorry for yelling at you and throwing a tantrum when you asked me to wash my hands" would be a good one.  "I'm sorry for hitting you when you took my Polly Pocket" also would suffice.  "I'm sorry you're stupid" would not.

Part Three: the transaction.  The apology concludes with the most challenging portion, one that our society often omits, when we have our children ask for forgiveness.  "Would you please forgive me?"

As adults, we rarely take an apology this far.  When we say we're sorry, I think we internally want the offended party to say, "It's okay" so we can dust off our hands and move on with life.  But when we've hurt or offended someone, it's not okay.  When we ask for forgiveness, uncomfortable as it may be, we're putting ourselves on the line as having done something wrong that needs to be made right.  It's transactional.

It's easy to say, "Well, I'm sorry you took that the wrong way."  The blame doesn't reside on us for having said something hurtful, but on the other person for having the nerve to feel hurt.  It's much harder to admit, "I'm sorry that my words so sharp.  I wasn't being considerate.  Would you forgive me?"

I've had to apologize to my daughters, and I follow the same protocol.  "Reese, I'm sorry that I lost my temper and yelled earlier.  Would you please forgive me?"

It's humbling, of course, but that's a good thing.

Since I'm a glass-half-full kind of girl, I'll look at our frequent application of good apologizing techniques as learning opportunities, rather than to assume that my children will grow up to be serial offenders.  One day, we'll get so good that we can bypass the apologies altogether by just behaving nicely.

An unneeded apology is the best apology of all.
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  1. You're such a good mommy! a very inspiring post!

  2. you're doing a great job, and believe it or not, it'll sink in. at least until they're teens. then they forget for a while. :-/

  3. I think you should teach a course on mothering. . . I would sign up in a heartbeat! Now that I think of it, maybe you should just move in with me for a while and teach away!

  4. Absolutely love this post. I agree with the previous comment you should teach a course-- especially in apologies because you are right apologies are more than an “I’m sorry". it was great that you added humor "Eye rolling kills it entirely” : ) it really does! Thanks for writing this.


  5. Thanks so much for all the comments! I think I often write because I'm working to "teach" myself. Putting thoughts into words solidifies them.

    And, hopefully, one day it'll "stick." :)

  6. Robin,
    I love the way you can write. So descriptive, light,fun, powerful, efficient.

  7. I really enjoyed this post and struggle with apologies myself. As do my children. Funny, that. But whoever said "love means never having to say you're sorry" was on drugs. So I'm working on it.

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