We’ve all done it. We’ve all stood over our kids and demanded, “Say you’re sorry!” with a child’s flippant, “Sorry,” the only retort, eyes lowered, mouth mumbling. Does anyone believe that apology comes from the heart? Doubtful. But it is possible to achieve a heartfelt apology with kids. Here’s how.
First, give kids space. I separate mine in their rooms or in different areas of the house. If we’re in the car, we call a quiet moment.
Second, talk to each of them. Rather than accusing (“Why did you hit him?”), just ask for that child’s version of the events. Usually he’ll say, “He hit me first!” and I ask what happened before that. “Well, I told him he’s stupid. He’s not even playing the game right!” Ok — now let’s talk about patience and name calling and how that makes people feel.
Third, it’s time to actually apologize. Put real words to it. “I’m sorry for _____. Next time I’ll _____ instead. Will you forgive me?” “Yes, I forgive you.” Note: There’s no “…but!…” to follow this statement. It’s not conditional forgiveness.
Fourth, I ask each child to say 2-3 things they LIKE about their sibling. This step is crucial. It’s amazing how much easier it is to accept someone’s apology when they follow it up with positive reasons they like you!
- You’re fun
- I like the games you make up
- You make me laugh
It doesn’t have to be deep or complicated — just honest. This also helps to identify how liking and loving are different things. Lots of people love their family but don’t seem to like them. I want my kids to recognize that they like one another too, so we call it out. Even my husband and I say, “I like you,” as a separate thing from “I love you.”
Last, they hug and say they love each other. Yes, even boys. Love is all you need.
I don’t think this all needs to happen a dozen times a day. There are definitely still quick parental shouts of, “Stop it now!” and we all move on. The above steps are for the serious conflicts that have escalated after a parent’s warning, or when physical or emotional hurts need to be addressed.
Help your kids know how to apologize and they’ll grow into adults who know how to apologize. After all, they’ll have each other forever, and eventually they’ll add great friendships, marriages, and their own kids to the mix.
I’m sorry and I like you and I love you go a long, long way.