Let's Talk Kids: "Saying I'm Sorry"
Apologizing communicates our recognition that we contributed to a conflict. This recognition flies in the face of determination to always be the “injured” party, looking to cast blame on others in every situation. Some people feel that apologizing reflects weakness, and pride keeps them from ever wanting to appear humble.
For many, the minute there’s a problem they begin posturing to figure out how to assign blame to someone else. They go on the offensive without first wondering how their own actions may have contributed to the problem.
I recently observed a remarkable conversation between children embroiled in a fuss. One child unceremoniously dumped another out of a swing she wanted to use. The child who was more clearly in the right spoke first, and quietly said, “I’m sorry. I know you like that swing.”
I was amazed. But what happened next was wonderful. The girl who did the dumping sheepishly said, “I’m sorry. You had it first.” Moments later, the girls were off playing again, the friendship intact.
An apology is a way of taking responsibility. When kids see adults apologize, they learn that it’s ok to be wrong sometimes, as long as we own up to it. But a child who never hears an apology may grow up feeling the pressure to always be right. Living on that moral high ground is a heavy load for a kid.
Teaching kids to apologize has another, more important meaning that has to do with the value of friendship. Author Mark Matthews writes, “Apologizing does not mean you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means you value the relationship more than your ego.”
If we’re interested in our children’s character development, we may honor humility in relationships more than we honor our child always being “right.” Encouraging apologies is a way to acknowledge our respect for others and our willingness to put the relationship first.
It’s a great thing for kids to learn to say “I’m sorry.” In fact, when kids squabble, both of them should probably say it as a way to remind them of steps they might have taken to avoid the fuss. But more importantly, they should probably see us take responsibility when we mess up. After all, “saying” matters less than “seeing.”