Should we make them say sorry? Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash
I’ve had this dilemma for a while — should I force a “sorry” out of my kids when they do something wrong? Yes, I want to teach my children to say sorry, just like I teach them to say thank you, or excuse me. But there’s something about forcing an apology that just doesn’t seem right to me. And when they do say sorry, but they say it “sor-ry” with a roll of their eyes, not meaning a word of it, that’s even worse.
When I was teaching there were a number of kids that thought sorry was a magic word they could throw around to avoid getting told off. It meant nothing. They didn’t have any remorse for hitting their friend. They didn’t care that their victim was now crying and hurt. Sorry meant “I’m sorry I got caught. Can I just go now?”
When adults say sorry in that way we hate it. The media goes crazy when famous people do it. Fake apologies are far more offensive than no apology.
I want to raise kids that are sincere when they say sorry and humble enough to know when they need to. So how do we teach them the skills of genuine apologies?
What makes a good apology?
Associate Professor John Potter, an expert in Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management talks about five Rs of apologising — recognition, regret, responsibility, remedy and realignment.
- Recognition — we need to get learn to recognise the right time to apologise. When someone is still very angry, that’s not the right time. Allow them to cool off and then try to talk. But, after the cool down time, the sooner the apology is made the better.
- Regret — apologies need to be heart felt or they will be seen as fake. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. Focus on the victim and what they need to hear, rather than what you want to say. “I’m sorry you feel that way” is not the way to go. “I’m really sorry I hurt your feelings” is much more effective.
- Responsibility — this is as simple as saying “I was wrong”. It’s learning to take ownership of your actions and not blame anyone or anything else.
- Remedy — what am I going to do about it? Is there some way to make up for what happened? Or a way to ensure it won’t happen again?
- Realignment — sometimes a problem needs to be talked about together to resolve it.
A good apology starts with a focus on the victim and ends with genuine remorse. It’s clear and doesn’t use too many words. And, Potter says, one of the worst things you can do is repeat an apology.
So now we know what a good apology looks like, how do we teach that to our children? In his Ted Talk, Defence Lawyer Jahan Kalantar shares a very simple approach.
Stand and Think is a great alternative to Timeout. Photo by Diana Feil on Unsplash
3 simple steps to a great apology
Kalantar says that a good apology shows you understand what you did wrong. It’s not a “Sorry, can I go now?” like the students in my class sometimes used. It’s genuine. But it can also be simple.
He uses a three part sentence: why, because, and
- Why — The reason for the apology. “I’m sorry I called you a name.”
- Because — recognising why it was wrong. “Because it hurt your feelings. I was wrong to say that.”
- And — the next step “And I won’t do it again.”
Simple and easy enough even for preschoolers to learn. With young children I prefer to teach this apology format teamed up with a technique called “Stand and Think” (It can be used with older children too.)
Stand and Think is instead of Time out. It’s better because you can use it ANYWHERE and it helps children learn to think about their actions and reflect on what they can do next time. It goes like this:
- Child does something you are not happy about.
- Ask them to stand near you somewhere and have a think. Say “Stand here until you are ready to talk about what you did.” (There is no time limit- it can be seconds or minutes)
- When they are ready ask them “What did you do that meant you had to stand and think?” If they can’t tell you, remind them.
- “Why is that not okay?” (you may need to help- keep it simple “Sarah got hurt”)
- “What could you have done instead?”
- “What can you do to make it better?”
- “Go do that now.” If they say they want to apologise then help them learn how. Wait till the affected person is calm, then prompt the child with “I’m sorry I…..because…..And….”
Until next time!