Let’s talk about helping our kids say sorry. (This is last week’s post on sibling rivalry continued.)
Too often I see parents making their kids apologize.
“SAY SORRY!” I’ll hear them say.
I used to do that as well. But I learned that it doesn’t help my kids to “make” them apologize.
If a child is forced to apologize, it is highly likely that they are just going though the motions to appease a parent or avoid further conflict or punishments.
I do not want my kids to apologize for those reasons.
I want them to apologize because they actually feel sorry.
I want them to regret wrong decisions.
I want them to resolve to do better in the future.
I want them to have empathy for the other person.
I want them to know that they have the capability to be kind.
I want them to WANT to be kind.
Me forcing them to apologize doesn’t do any of those things... so I don’t force them anymore.
When conflict happens, I follow the steps outlined in my previous two posts on sibling rivalry, and then I guide my children through apologizing by focusing on 6 things.
Make it Right
Ask what you can do
This list might seem long, and it is when you consider that many parents only focus on step 1, but all 6 of these items increase love, build trust, acknowledge imperfections, and leave both parties involved feeling empowered.
So take the time to understand each step!
(Also, even if you don’t go through all 6 steps each time, understanding the difference between them is useful in order to help problem spot when conflicts arise, so let’s talk about each...)
Instead of just saying sorry, say what you are sorry for.
This is the basic “I am sorry” taken to a higher level.
Be specific in acknowledging what it is that you did wrong.
“I am sorry that I __________.” (Hit you, took your toy, yelled at you, didn’t come when I was called, etc.)
2. Speak Truth
Say what you believe.
See my previous post, step 3 for specifics.
It might be something such as:
I love you. I am glad you are my brother. I know you are learning. We all make mistakes sometimes. I know that I am not perfect. I still have a lot to learn.
This will cause a powerful effect in your kids. Hearing their sibling say what they believe softens hearts.
3. Future Focus
Speak what you want to have happen next time.
This is important because we create what we think is possible.
I want to think that I can do better and I want to think that there is a different way, because I want to make it possible.
So SAY it.
“Next time I will _________.” (ask you, say please stop, leave the room, share, etc)
4. Express Empathy
Think about what the other person is feeling and acknowledge it.
“I know you are probably feeling __________, and I hope you feel better.” (sad, hurt, mad, etc)
This shifts the focus to how what happened might still be hurting them, and this focus can provide relief.
5. Ask What You Can Do
No one knows better than the person themselves.
“What can I do to help you?”
They might need a hug, someone to sit with them, or an offer to play with them. If they don’t know what they need, suggest something.
Think about what you would want if it were you.
6. Request forgiveness.
There is a reason that this one is last. Sometimes when kids fight, I hear them say “would you please forgive me?” BEFORE they have even apologized.
While we usually want to be forgiven, focusing on forgiveness first puts the focus on ourselves, not the other person. This is why I teach my kids to do steps 1-5 first.
Once you have fully focused on how your actions affected the other person, taken responsibility for them, and offered to help them, it is appropriate to ask for forgiveness if desired.
So in summary, the conversation from their end will end up looking like some version of these steps. Sometimes including all, but sometimes not, and never forced.
From start to finish:
I am sorry that I took your toy.
I love you. I am glad you are my brother. I am trying to do what is right.
Next time I will wait for a turn and ask you nicely.
I know you are probably feeling sad, and I hope you feel better.
What can I do to help you? (Or, here is your toy back, if they haven’t already done that part.)
Will you please forgive me?
Talk about a turnaround!
Teaching these distinct parts to an apology is key for our kids to develop empathy.
When teaching them these steps, ask questions such as:
How do you like to be treated?
What would help you feel better after a fight?
Do you love your sibling?
Do you want them to suffer?
Do you want to be friends when you grow up?
If they answer negatively to any of the above questions, (as they sometimes will!), let it go. They might think that they don’t want to be friends when they grow up right now. It’s ok.
I say something like “Oh that’s interesting. I want to be friends with my siblings…it’s more fun, but you can have it whichever way you want. And you have lots of time to choose.”
Once you teach this process, the shift in compassion and love after a fight is powerful.
Siblings who fight actually draw closer together as they express empathy and decide that they WANT to be friends.
I call this whole process: Making it Right.
We can’t go back in time and undo things that are in the past.
We can make it as right as possible by acknowledging what went wrong, and moving forward.
My job as a mom is to facilitate this transformation.
By the way, this is the same method of making it right that I use when I lose my cool with my kids. (Yes, it still happens sometimes!!)
But I have a plan for when it does: I make it right.
What is your plan for when you mess up?
I would love to hear.
Till next week.
P.S. I would love to hear what your kids fight about and where you get stuck helping them. Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.