Teaching “I’m Sorry”

I stumbled upon a blog post explaining why a mother did not make her kids apologize when they’ve done something wrong. Found here. I found the title intriguing and by the time I was done reading I was a believer in the concept with a couple changes. In all fairness, I don’t recall a single time so far that I have ever said “Say you’re sorry.” The little boy knows the rules. He doesn’t always obey, we are learning, not perfect. So this isn’t switching directions on him; I’m not sure it would make a difference if it was though. As parents, we have already been doing some of this without realizing. I just took the time to write it down and hey, we aren’t doing half bad!

Long example: When we talk about going to church on Sunday with the little boy, we state that it is important to be quiet when we are in church, to listen to the stories and sing the songs. When we are in church we need to sit still, it is not time to play. Most Sundays after mass coffee and doughnuts are available and this is my “no bribe” rule exception. If you are good in church we can have a doughnut. Before church we go over the expectations once more. After church, we take a quick minute to ask “Were you good? Did you sit still? Were you quiet?” Usually the reply is “no” to 2 of 3. But it makes him take a second to think about his actions. He has learned he doesn’t want to leave early. We’ve made a little progress there.

Thinking about your actions is the first step in being sorry. What do you have to be sorry for? In the beginning just telling the child to “Say I’m sorry.” Really doesn’t do anything but possibly force a lie. Instead, we started with “I should not have ___. I know it wasn’t right.” They are taking ownership of what they did and acknowledging it wasn’t right. This may need a couple helpful questions; “Did you___? Is that something we are supposed to do?” This simple reflection of what just took place is usually enough time for them to realize just what they did and after a few times will lead to feeling sorry (with any luck).

Them feeling sorry for their actions is when “I should not have ___. I know it wasn’t right. I’m sorry.” comes in to play. From here things can usually move a little quicker with a couple more reflection questions: “why are you sorry? How do you think that makes___ feel?” By the time you are able to ask these questions, the previous questions usually can be skipped because the child has gown enough to make that connection.

Now that they are taking time to think about how it made the other person feel you can encourage “I should not have ___. I know it wasn’t right. I’m sorry I made you feel___.” This doesn’t happen overnight, in fact it can take a couple years depending on age. This takes a lot of personal growth and maturity, which takes time. Once you have made it this far the very last step is the easiest to teach and the hardest for everyone to do:

“I should not have ___. I know it wasn’t right. I’m sorry I made you feel___. I will try to not do that again.”

This last statement is what we are striving for should the event arise. Really, we are trying to do good so we don’t have to go through this but it doesn’t matter the age of the person apologies need to be made every now and then. It can be very hard to own up to what you done especially when talking to the person whom you are apologizing to. In fact I’m quite positive there are some adults who have never got this lesson and really should. Their quality of life would improve if they were capable of something so simple as saying “I’m sorry” meaningfully.

Being able to give an honest and meaningful apology isn’t the end of the lesson. Once the child (or adult) has this skill, they are thinking not only about themselves and their actions but of others and how they can affect those around them, good or bad. Thinking about others will be second nature, which means they are much more likely to be helpful, caring and compassionate. This means they will be using the skills they have learned to not need to apologize (not often anyway). They will be able to think ahead of what could happen should they do or say something and prevent the hurt feeling or whatever the outcome may be. That is the key.



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