One of the hardest things for any of us to do is to say, “I’m sorry.” It is interesting to me that dogs can convey remorse without words, but humans often can’t find the words to smooth over a problem that they created. Kids have a terrible time admitting they did wrong; for most adults, it’s even harder. One skill that we need to teach our children is how to ask for forgiveness. Here’s my formula:
Admit wrongdoing. Don’t make a child say “I’m sorry.” If she’s not sorry, you’re compounding her transgression by making her lie. An insincere, ‘Sorry’, doesn’t make anyone feel better, especially if it’s obvious to the person who was wronged. Instead, have her admit wrongdoing. Even if a child isn’t sorry, she knows what she did was unacceptable behavior. Have her acknowledge this: “Wearing your new blouse without permission was wrong.” Again – this is different from an apology.
If, however, the child is truly sorry, he can say so. And only the child knows if the heart is truly repentant. Here’s a hint to pass along – true repentance means that you aren’t proud of what you did, and you wouldn’t do it again if you had a chance to. I’m sorry to have to break it so you, but if you brag to your friends, “I beat the snot out of him, and I’ll do it again if he messes with me!” then you’re not sorry. (Oh, wait…I guess I’m not sorry.)
Name the mistake. Have the child specify what she did wrong. Don’t let her get by with a vague acknowledgement. Have her verbalize the ‘crime’: “I should not have eaten your stash of Halloween candy.” Naming the sin makes it less likely to be repeated.
Ask for forgiveness. Finally, teach kids to ask for forgiveness. This is the easiest part for most kids. “Will you forgive me?”
Here are some examples taken from our own family:
“I should not have hit you in the head with the baseball bat. Will you forgive me?” We started practicing this formula early – when the guys were very, very young and did such things with frightening regularity. Thankfully, they’ve moved on to different crimes.
“I should not have eaten the last bowl of Lucky Charms when I knew you hadn’t had any. Will you forgive me?” Truly not sorry. Truly would do it again. Truly happened this week.
“I’m sorry I spilled milk on your science project. It was an accident. Will you forgive me?”
“Mom, I’m sorry I was so rude yesterday morning. Will you forgive me?”
And here is an example from yesterday. Two of our sons had a pretty heated disagreement. One was clearly in the wrong. After I talked to both of them individually, I overheard this conversation:
Child #1: I’m sorry (he really was) that I (transgression omitted in the interest of privacy). Will you forgive me?
Child #2: Yes.
Child #1: Do you want me to hug you?
Child #2: That’s probably not a good idea. I just f-rted.
I had implored Child #2 to accept the apology graciously, without making Child #1 feel any worse. I declare he chose the perfect thing to say.
And the incident was over. The day was saved, and I knew my boys were on their way to learning to resolve the inevitable disagreements that arise in families.
The world would be a better place if we all would admit wrongdoing and seek forgiveness. Maybe we can change the world – one child at a time.
PS I read a great post today on conflict resolution! Adds more insight and ideas.
Another Important Social Skill…
Teach your boys most very important social skills – manners from this book. I read it a chapter a night to our guys – at the dinner table. Captive audience, you know. Stand Up, Shake Hands, and Say "How Do You Do": What Boys Need to Know about Today’s Manners