“Say sorry” you tell your child and your child looks at you and shakes his head. “Say sorry” you repeat – and he sullenly says a sorry that doesn’t sound at all like he has any regret.
This is a frequent scenario in almost every parent child interaction.
Parents know that one of the most important and most valuable words in the world is the word “Sorry”
A heartfelt sorry that is accompanied by genuine regret and an accompanying corrective action is one of the most magical ways to mend situations, to preserve relationships and to obtain peace of mind.
And that is why they insist that their children learn to say it.
But because it such a small word with so much power – it is also the most difficult word to say
Why must children learn how to say “sorry”
When a child learns how to say a genuine sorry, he gains more than a social skill.
Learning to say sorry means learning to consider other people’s feelings, learning to take responsibility for your actions, learning to undo mistakes and learning to avoid making similar future mistakes
Saying sorry is a profound gesture. It is a vital life skill
Why is it so difficult to teach children how to say sorry
As parents we instinctively realize the importance of teaching our children the importance of saying sorry.
In situations that demand it – parents are often heard ordering their children to “Say sorry”.
More often than not – this order is met with children either refusing to say sorry or spitting or snarling the word to get it out of the way.
And when this happens – parents feel angry, embarrassed and ashamed.
All of us want our children to be polite, empathetic compassionate individuals, but we cannot achieve that by ordering them to say sorry.
“Say sorry” – is an order – it doesn’t matter whether the tone used to say it is a coaxing tone or a commanding one.
Being ordered to say sorry is embarrassing, humiliating and degrading. And it sends any empathy or remorse that the child may have felt for doing something wrong – flying out of the window.
With his mistake in the spotlight – the child’s focus shifts to somehow saving face and finding some way to shift the blame instead of taking responsibility for his actions.
And that is why insisting that a child say sorry is never helpful
What should you do when your child makes a mistake
When a child makes a mistake –
- First show your child that you are unhappy with his actions.
- Then calmly and gracefully explain why the action made you unhappy.
- And then brainstorm with your child on ways to set right the mistake.
- Allow the word sorry to emerge during this process of realizing that a wrong has been committed that must now be set right.
- And once your child has realized his mistake and acknowledged it – forgive him immediately. Let the forgiveness be complete and final.
7 things you can do to make it easier for your child to say sorry
1. Don’t get angry
It is never a good idea to get angry with a child.
Anger is not a helpful quality. We can express our disappointment in what the child has done or our unhappiness over what he has said – but there is no place for getting angry.
Anger puts children on the defensive.
When you are angry – your child begins to feel like the victim.
He begins to feel sorry for himself instead of for what he has done – and in a situation like that – it makes no sense for him to say sorry to someone else
2. Don’t label a child “Bad boy” or “Bad girl” when they do something wrong
When we label children like this – we threaten their identity.
They begin to feel that by saying sorry they would be admitting and acknowledging that they are bad people.
It is much better to say “You are such a nice child – but that wasn’t a very nice thing to do – it hurt your friend.”
It is easy to apologize when you feel you are a good person guilty of one wrong action – rather than when you feel that you are a bad person intrinsically.
3. Never stop speaking to your child
Not speaking makes the child resentful and does not help solve the problem or bring about reconciliation
By talking we create an open and frank atmosphere that helps children realize their mistakes and find ways to undo what they have done wrong
4. Be careful not to convert “guilt” into “shame”
In your attempt to show your child that he is wrong don’t go overboard and convert guilt about doing something wrong – into shame.
Saying “You should be ashamed of yourself for hitting your friend” generates shame.
On the other hand – saying “When you hit someone it hurts and your friend got hurt” generates guilt about the action taken.
It is easier to apologize when your dignity is intact
Make sure that no apology ever makes your child feel small.
Emphasize that both apologizing and forgiving make us bigger and not smaller in any situation.
5. When your child realizes his mistake – be swift to forgive and forget.
Forgiveness should always be immediate complete and final.Children begin to think it is pointless to apologize when they realize that they will continue to be reminded of their mistakes in the future
Quick and complete forgiveness teach children how to bounce back after mistakes and move on
6. Don’t blow mistakes out of proportion and stay angry for long periods
A child who lives a full, busy, adventurous life is sure to make mistakes.
Look at mistakes in the right perspective.
A mistake is never the end of the world.
It is wrong to start a trend where – ‘getting angry and holding grudges’ becomes a favorite family pastime so that someone or the other is always mad at someone else for some reason.
7. Set a good example
Be swift to say sorry when you have done something wrong.
Offer heartfelt apologies as a routine – whether it is the household help you need to apologize to or another driver on the road when you are driving
If you refuse to bend and acknowledge mistakes – you may find the same qualities in your child.
When you parent your child – remember……..
If you want your child to learn how to apologize – make forgiveness easy and sweet for him
As you teach your child to apologize – remember also to teach your child to forgive himself for what he has done wrong.
Don’t make forgiveness so difficult and mistakes so earth-shaking that the child becomes afraid of living life to the fullest. Build a life where mistakes are easily and lovingly forgiven and forgotten. That is what makes life worth living.