All Apologies

There was an interesting article today on Yahoo Shine about 8 things you should not say to your child: http://shine.yahoo.com/team-mom/5-things-parents-shouldnt-kids-171300904.html Just as interesting as the article are all the comments that follow! Some parents endorse the advice, others contribute with additional things not to say (often including awful things that were said to them as children!), and many disparage the article as well as any professional who may be trying to impart parenting advice to others! If you’re not a fan of parenting advice, then why bother reading the article in the first place?!

I'm Sorry!Anyway, one of the most contentious points in the article had to do with not forcing your child to say “I’m sorry” when they do something worthy of an apology (e.g. take a toy from another child).  The author argues that making your child apologize does not teach social skills, and points out that just saying they’re sorry does not automatically help your child understand WHY they are apologizing. She suggests modeling the apropriate response and apologizing for your child (that definitely did not go over well with many readers). 

My feeling about teaching children to apologize is that an apology should always be sincere. I think it’s important to help your child see another person’s perspective so they can see that feelings may have been hurt and understand why an apology would be in order. With young children, saying something like “If somebody took your toy without asking you would feel very upset. Let’s give it back and let her know that we didn’t mean to hurt her feelings.” Sometimes we do want to prompt our children with the exact words that we want them to say – e.g. ask them to say “I’m sorry”.  Other times maybe it is helpful to apologize on our child’s behalf so they can learn how to apologize sincerely. As they get older, we can encourage them to apologize in their own words in a way that shows they really mean it. 

I can remember insisting that my older son apologize to his brother and hearing a rote, robotic “I’m sorry” complete with a glazed over expression and flat tone. It would drive me crazy, and I sometimes tried to insist that he say it again in a way that sounded like he meant it. Just like anyone else though, he had a hard time sounding sincere if he was not feeling sincere. I had more luck trying to help him walk in his brother’s shoes for a moment so he could understand WHY his brother might deserve an apology! Only then, when he truly had empathy for his brother’s perspective, would the apology sound correspondingly genuine!

Girl in time-outSome parents encourage their children to hug and apologize when they have done something wrong. I am not a big fan of this, especially after the child has done something physical to another child such as hit, bite, push, etc. The last thing that other child (or their parent) wants is to have more physical contact from someone who just hurt them! I also think that an immediate consequence such as time-out is essential after a child has been physically aggressive toward another. Hugging and saying I’m sorry could end up being more of a reinforcer for negative behavior than a consequence that says ‘unacceptable’.  I’d rather remove my child from the situation immediately and let them know that we do NOT hit people.  Maybe after an appropriate time-out when everybody has calmed down he could come back and give a verbal apology.

In the end, all children are different and what works well with one kid may not work as well with another. There’s no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer, but it is interesting to hear what people think about it. I’m sorry… I can’t speak for everyone, what is your take on mandatory apologizing?

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