All of us grew up being taught basic manners: saying Please and Thank You, not belching at the table, and also saying I'm Sorry when we upset or hurt someone. As we got older, we learned pretty quickly that the last one didn't always work. Saying I'm Sorry didn't always fix things and yet we got confused as to why the other person didn't feel better after hearing us say it. Many of us would get mad at the other person for not just accepting those words and moving on.
Maybe teaching our kids to say those words isn't enough. Maybe it's time that we evolve as parents and realize that teaching this not only falls short, but may also damage our child's ability to handle and resolve conflict as they get older.
I came across a story a few years ago. I am going to paraphrase because I don't remember the exact wording of it. I believe it was a teacher who demonstrated this to their class and I believe the topic they were covering was bullying. They took a piece of paper and crumpled it up. Then had a student flatten it as much as they could. No matter how much effort the student put in to flattening the paper, they couldn't get it back to where it started. The point was that the paper represented a person. The crumpling represented bullying. And the wrinkles in the paper that couldn't be smoothed out represented the affects left behind, even after an apology.
The photo above that I am borrowing from RawForBeauty.com is another representation of the same idea. If you can't read it on your mobile device, here is the text next to a broken plate in the photo:
I could add a couple more lines to this:
The next question is, if I'm not going to teach my child to say I'm Sorry, how do I teach them empathy when they have done something wrong?
Have you ever witnessed a baby crying when they hear another baby cry? A young child crying when a movie character is hurt? You can think of more examples, can't you? Children are born with empathy!
Your next question is, my two year old hits to get a toy they want, then doesn't care that the other child cries. What do I do then if I don't teach them to give the toy back and say "I'm sorry."?
Your two year old is learning their place in the world. They found satisfaction in getting that toy the way they knew how in that moment. It's most likely that this satisfaction overruled their empathy for the other child. Do you really think that forcing your child to say words they don't feel is teaching them anything good? What do YOU think you should do instead? You know your child best. Did they even notice how upset the other child was? Maybe they didn't. Is there a way you can explain to them, at their level of understanding, what a better way would be? Are they in the habit of using this method of getting their own way? Do they know what would work better without hurting other kids?
Don't get me wrong.... Saying I'm sorry is a polite, social acknowledgement when there isn't much damage done. When there is, it takes more than saying the words "I'm sorry". The words don't make everything right, especially if the behaviors that you are apologizing for happen time and again. Too often I have witnessed people use those words almost as a weapon; to shut the other person up when the person who was hurt needs to express all of their associated feelings, needs them acknowledged, and needs to feel understood. In this case, it comes off as dismissive. This is just one example of how teaching those words hampers future healthy social interactions with others.
Feeling truly sorry is remorse. It is a desire to hear how the other person has been affected, a desire to understand, and a desire to do what the person needs to make it right. Most of the time, what makes the other person feel better is simply being allowed to express themselves without being judged for it. Most of the time, if the offense isn't too great for them, it is enough to release the hurt so they can forgive you.
When it comes to teaching this to our kids, let's figure out a way to have it evolve according to their individual level of development and understanding. Maybe they need it pointed out that they hurt someone else. Maybe they need to calm down in a heated situation, then ask the child that they hurt if they are ok. (I have had excellent results with this one!) Maybe they need to learn to slow down, stop, and really pay attention to the consequences of their actions and need help figuring out how to do so. Above all, let's also see what kind of example we are setting for our kids when it comes to apologies and remorse in our relation to others, but also to them. This last area, is a blog topic all by itself!
As a Parent Coach and Mentor, my passion lies in empowering parents to make the best decisions they can for their children and their families as a whole. As a well-trained coach, I can be your facilitator and accountability partner for long-lasting, meaningful change that has a permanent, positive impact for your family. By focusing on the values that you hold most important in your life, I can help you create and maintain the type of parenting relationship you want to have with your children, now and into their adulthood.
I am a homeschooling mom of four children in Massachusetts. I am also the author of a book called The Herbal Beverage Book, which can be found on amazon. When not coaching, writing or spending time with the family, I enjoy Hayao Miyazaki films, new and classic Dr. Who episodes, anything related to American history and a great glass of mead.
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This blog is a collection of thoughts, articles and perspectives I have at any one time. While I am pretty consistent in my beliefs, life changes and evolves along with experiences. You may feel a connection with me through my writing yet I never want any of my readers to misunderstand that the connection you feel is with a perspective I have shared and not me as a person. I am continually humbled that I am able to connect with my readers, and I hope to continue to be able to for many years to come, but it doesn't make us connected in any way beyond this. If you connect with what I write and know me as an acquaintance, this in no way reflects that I have any knowledge of you, your situation in life or that I am writing with you in mind. It is merely that I have shared a human experience that most likely very many others have had has well. This also goes for anything I post on my Twitter account, Facebook Page and Facebook personal page. I wanted to make this disclaimer as clear as possible so you know that any misunderstanding you choose to have is not my responsibility.