Don’t get me wrong – I think children sometimes lack the skill of apologising, but more importantly they are lacking the ability to apologize sincerely. It is the difference between uttering those words and acting on those words – and the difference lies in our children’s ability to empathize. People make mistakes, and how we make restitutions for these demonstrate for our children how to accept responsibility and move forward with action based on empathy.
I’m fairly certain none of us are perfect parents or people, and one important way we can acknowledge that is to apologize to and in front of our children when we make mistakes. Accepting responsibility can be difficult, but when we demonstrate our regrets, we teach our children about empathy. It is this empathy that they need in order to understand how to make real apologies in their own life. And no matter how wonderfully amazing our children are, they are going to make some mistakes and need to own up to them.
“Well sorrryyyy!” in a sarcastic tone obviously doesn’t seem sincere, but there are many more subtle ways we demonstrate false apologies. Teaching your kids to make real apologies begins by demonstrating that skill (yes – ownership and responsibility taking are skills).
Restate the act that got you there in the first place. “I am sorry your feelings are hurt because I threw away the picture you drew.” You acknowledge the pain and the reason for it.
Look into your children’s eyes when you apologize.
Don’t apologize to someone, and then turn around later and complain to someone else about the situation. You have just removed your ownership.
Don’t start sentences with, “I’m sorry, but….” What you might as well say is, “I’m not sorry because I think I was right for these reasons.”
Leading by example in your own life is vitally important, but there are several other ways we can teach our children how to empathize and accept roles in hurtful words or actions, even when they are unintentional.
Don’t force your child to say sorry. It doesn’t teach them empathy. Instead, focus on why an apology is needed.
Don’t allow your child to think that “Sorry” is a free pass for misbehaviors. Kids who learn to apologize and get it over with aren’t learning to accept responsibility for their behaviors. Actions do speak louder than words.
Teach your child to do an apologetic action when he or she is sorry. This can be a hug, an offer to share a toy, or another action appropriate response.
Be careful of the blame game, especially between siblings. I have been witness to several disagreements between my children where I honestly cannot tell with certainty who is the responsible party for the behavior, even though I might have my suspicions. I encourage them to take ownership for their individual contributions.
Ask them to put themselves in the other person’s shoes, and ask questions about how they would feel. Encourage them to use words that reflect emotions – frustration, anger, sadness, uncertainty – as well as words that clearly state the reality. “I hit Sam with my block on the head because I was mad he took my doll. His head got hurt and he is angry and sad.” This is a great opportunity to demonstrate empathy.
Read good books and tell stories where apologies were needed and made. I was recently doing a read aloud with my kids of the classic story “Summer of the Swans” and it has several great scenes where apologies were needed, and not easy to make. My boys talked about how hard it can be sometimes, but that real apologies make everyone feel better.
Apologies are never easy, no matter how old we get. It is most important, however, to teach our kids to do more than just say “Sorry” for their wrongs. They need to learn from us as we set examples, and they need to learn the actions that support the words.