I can never get my nine-year-old to say sorry. If he has done something wrong and knows I am upset, I feel he may be actually feeling sorry, but nothing can get him to admit it or tender an apology. I am afraid the other adults in his life, too, are this way. Either they never admit a mistake or quip sarcastically if they are “expected to go down on hands and knees” if they’ve done something wrong. How do I inculcate the good character trait of making amends in my son?
So many of us, even in adulthood, have not yet acquired the important life skill of saying we’re sorry. And yet, contrary to what some people think—and most children believe initially—apologizing is not a sign of weakness or of being a bad person. It is, in fact, a sign of strength. It is a demonstration that you have the moral fibre to identify your own mistake and the courage to express this to whoever you have wronged or hurt. The other adults in your kid’s life seem to be sadly stuck in a phase where they have to be right at all costs.
Teaching a child to say sorry involves a complex set of responses on the part of a parent. It means first fostering empathy in your child. A genuine apology flows
from the ability to put yourself in the shoes of the person whom you have hurt.
Forgive and forget: Teach by example
How do we inculcate this rather abstract social skill?
# Teach by example. When your kids see an adult within the family offering a genuine apology, or making amends for a mistake or error, it goes a long way. Saying sorry to your child for forgetting to do something for him, or for wrongly mistrusting her or for losing your temper makes both you and your child better people.
# When your child does something wrong, spell out that you are hurt, rather than angry. If you merely show anger, your child may, out of fear, steadfastly refuse to accept his mistake, leave alone apologize.
#Do not demand an apology; rather, create an atmosphere where apologizing becomes the most genuine, natural and appropriate thing for him to do. Demonstrate that you are hurt and that there is something that he can do—say sorry—to change the situation.
#Once your child does apologize, show sincere appreciation, but don’t rush to suddenly change the mood the minute he says sorry. This does not mean that you remain unforgiving. It only means that you avoid teaching your children to merely use the word “sorry” glibly, like some magic button.
# Be careful not to rob your child of her pride and dignity, when you insist that she apologize. There is no point in making a scene or a public spectacle out of it. Some of us think that this will teach our kids a lesson “once and for all”. All this does is to make apologizing a humiliating and avoidable act and teaches them to avoid being caught the next time.
# Teach children to apologize as well as to accept apologies gracefully. If they have been wronged or slighted in some way, and you or another person offers a sincere apology, children are at times tempted to milk the situation by remaining angry and hurt. Demonstrate to them how pleasant and “complete” the situation is, once an apology has been made and has been accepted. In short, teach them to forgive with grace, too.
Write to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org