sorry vs. soulful apologies
Have you ever insisted your child tell another how sorry he is? Does he ever glare at you with a pouty lip, look at the floor, and spit out “SORRry” in that resentful tone? Or better yet, does she flip her hair, roll her eyes, and play her best imitation of the latest pre-teen star? Surely you know what I mean—I’ve watched my kids do this, I’ve been the recipient of it, and it isn’t very satisfying.
Have you ever wondered why coerced apologies don’t work so well?
Forcing your child to “say sorry” has good intentions, but if it isn’t heartfelt, it sends a very mixed message: “Even if you’re not sorry, you should be. Push down all your real feelings and pretend they don’t exist.” Sometimes it gives kids an easy excuse. They only have to say, “I’m SORRry,” and somehow they get off the hook. Even the children aren’t satisfied. One resents the other, and the problem isn’t really solved. There must be more to this.
So how do we gracefully guide our children through conflicts while still teaching responsible, caring behavior?
We need to model authentic behavior. If a child is not sorry, help communicate feelings with words such as, “tell him you’re angry because. . . .“ or “tell her you’re frustrated with. . . “ Help children learn from their mistakes. Ask, “what did you learn from this?” and “what are you going to do differently next time?” This is enough. Children do not have to feel severe pain or self-criticism to learn from mistakes. The “I learned. . .and next time. . . “ pattern provides the opportunity to learn and make a positive behavior change.
This powerful exercise that stops the madness, slows down the momentum, and requires self-reflection. Don’t require rote sentences. Ask your child to write (or draw) why she is frustrated, what she learned, and what she’s going to do next time. Pull out a napkin or scrap of paper in the car, a restaurant, or the grocery store and watch what happens. If nothing else, you’ll get some precious scrapbook treasures for years to come.
If a child is sorry, certainly encourage him or her to say so. This can be a cleansing release that allows the child to move forward. When the apology comes freely from the heart, you have a chance to model forgiveness. Enjoy it.
Immerse your child in hugs, love and grace.
Finally, remember to ask forgiveness for your own mistakes, and make sure your kids witness you doing so. And pray that your child will learn to also ask for forgiveness without any coercion whatsoever.
Based on “Say You’re Sorry” from Parent Talk by Chick Moorman, Personal Power Press, 1998.
Check out more great “works for me” ideas at Rocks in my Dryer.