It’s common to see parents forcing their children to apologize.
Sometimes it results in the child saying sorry, sometimes it results in more conflict because the child refuses.
In the past I’ve asked my kids to do this, too, but honestly, I’ve never felt very good about it.
Without real understanding, that apology means nothing. They are just words to pacify, words that create social comfort.
Was anything really learned? Does the child really feel sorry or are they just learning to use words to get out of an uncomfortable situation?
It’s kind of like asking them to lie. If they don’t feel sorry, why do we force them to say it? And then even worse, punish them if they refuse to say it?
Instead of focusing on the “sorry,” can we focus on the feeling? What feeling brought on this behavior; what was felt right before you hit, yelled, or made that choice?
If children can identify their feelings, then they better understand themselves. And the better they understand their feelings, the more self aware they will be.
And self awareness leads to making better choices.
Maybe the next time they feel “that feeling” (could be anything…anger, embarrassment, frustration) they will instead try a deep breath, walking away or ask for help.
Maybe they will think before they speak, maybe they will use words instead of hitting.
And maybe, and most important, they will learn how to really listen and understand another person.
When one child does something to hurt another (emotionally or physically), are both parties asked what happened? Do they both get an opportunity to explain their side?
Maybe it’s not so cut and dry who is right and who is wrong. There may have been many issues that lead up to the issue at hand.
By asking questions we learn (and they learn) how one thing leads to another, how seemingly little things can lead to big things.
A poor choice may have been made, but poor choices are rarely made in isolation.
Maybe after it’s all said and done only one child gets a consequence, but at least that child had the opportunity to share.
There was respect instead of shame. There was validation instead of assumption.
Children will integrate the learning if they are heard first. Children understand how to empathize when they experience empathy first hand.
Instead of casting blame and creating a villain and a victim, can we see all sides of the story?
Then maybe, with this understanding, an apology will be real. One or both parties will see the big picture, understand their role in the situation, and then they can practice saying, “I’m sorry.”
This process may take longer than forcing an apology. It may take a little bit more energy, too.
But in the long run, what are you trying to teach?
How to make a mistake, speak a few words, and then walk away with no new understanding and no real remorse? I think our society has seen enough of this behavior.
Or, when these inevitable moments occur, can we focus on helping our children understand themselves and each other.
These are the true steps toward peace.
Cathy and her husband Todd will talk about forcing apologies on Zen Parenting Radio today (October 25th) at 4:30 CST.