I want my girls to be able to say ‘i’m sorry’. I want them to know what those words mean and i want them to know how to use them with love and respect. Both for the other person, and for them themselves. Knowing when, and how, to use those two little words is a skill that i want my daughters to master, so it’s something i’m teaching them do.
Think back to when you were a kid. Your brother grabbed your doll, and gave it a (not so) fantastic new haircut, leaving you in tears. Your Mom came in, told your brother to apologise and stood there glaring at him until he did it. He mumbled ‘I’m sorry’, and your Mom said ‘No, say it like you mean it!’. Maybe you got an, ‘Okay, okay, I’m soorrryy!’, but it didn’t make you feel any better, because you knew he only said sorry because he had to.
Forcing a child to say sorry when they don’t mean it defeats the purpose, and throwing ‘sorrys’ around too freely makes the word lose it’s power. In fact, forcing a child to apologise when they don’t mean it only makes the adult feel better, and can make the situation worse for the people that are actually involved, s0, sometimes we put a little ‘pause’ on the issue and come back to it when everyone’s had time to cool down and think about their behavior. As adults we do it all the time – if i argue with my husband, i remove myself from the situation to gather my thoughts, then come back to talk it out when i’ve calmed down. Why should our children, who have even less practice navigating the sometimes treacherous emotional waters of interpersonal relationships, be afforded any less courtesy?
There are, in fact, a growing number of people out there that say you shouldn’t make young kids say sorry at all. While i understand and agree with the theory behind the concept, i still feel that by providing my children with an environment that nurtures self-awareness, forgiveness and understanding, and the respect of boundaries, they can learn to use those two little words properly.
A while ago my older daughter and her cousin were having an argument. Words were said, and both stomped off in different directions. I gave it a couple of minutes, then sat down with my daughter. When i asked her what happened she told me that she’d gotten angry because she felt picked on, so she’d yelled at her cousin to leave her alone. Instead of launching into a lecture about the yelling, or trying to force her to apologize before she was ready, i asked my daughter how she thought that made her cousin feel. She looked away and then asked me, “But why should i apologize to her? She never apologizes to me!’. I explained to my daughter that apologising is not about getting an apology in return. It’s about taking responsibility for your actions and letting the other person know that you’re sorry for the hurt you’ve caused. Being able to take responsibility for mistakes that we make is not easy, and admitting our faults is not something that comes naturally, so it’s understandable that saying sorry is difficult for some people.
By being open, and talking to my daughters about the fact that everyone makes mistakes, i hope to impart on them a little of the wisdom that i’ve learnt in my 35 years on this earth. I’ve had to say sorry numerous times, probably more than i’d care to admit, but i’ve definitely come out the other side a better person. Saying sorry does not make you weak. Saying sorry does not mean that you are a bad person, or that the mistakes that you’ve made are unforgivable. All that it means is that you are willing to look at yourself and admit that you’re human.
Opening ourselves up to other human beings by admitting our shortcomings is one of the most beautiful and freeing experiences, and, by teaching my children that everybody makes mistakes, and that the right thing to do is look at your behavior, take responsibility for your actions and apologise to the person you’ve wronged, i’m giving my children the tools they need to connect with others is a loving, respectful and caring manner.
One of the most important things that i’m hoping to teach my children is how to offer up any apology in a way that is respectful to themselves as well. Baby, hold your head up high – Yes, you made a mistake, everyone makes those, you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. Make eye contact – it shows people that you know your value, and that your message is sincere. Don’t fixate – say your say, and move on. If they’re not willing to move on, that’s their burden to carry, not yours – you’ve done your part.
Admitting that we made a mistake should not be a dirty subject. Saying ‘I was wrong, i’m sorry,’ should not be ‘taboo’. Perfection is impossible, and that’s okay. I don’t expect it from myself, and i don’t expect it from my kids. What i do expect is that they learn to treat the little hiccups with love and kindness, towards others and themselves.