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Saying Sorry– Do you make your kids do it?

Should we makes our kids say sorry? At what age do they know what an apology is all about?
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I had an interesting experience at the park the other day.  When we go to the park, it looks like this: my kindergartner runs around the playground, and I keep half an ear out for her voice and glance up occasionally to make sure I can find her.  The rest of the time I sit on a blanket and then chase after my crawling twins—often crawling in opposite directions.

This particular Sunday morning, the oldest was on the play structure, going down the slide on her stomach, and the twins and I were doing our usual blanket routine.  At this age, they are curious about other people, and will crawl up to other children, and on other people’s blankets with very little hesitation.

One of my twins had crawled over to watch a dad set up his blanket, with a baby in the stroller and a preschool-age girl bouncing around, eager to get to the swing.  Standing in the cool grass, next to her dad, the preschooler began to kick off her shoes.  She kicked off one shoe, delighted to send it flying, and then flipped off the next shoe—right smack into my baby’s face.  Both girls looked startled.  My baby began to cry, though she wasn’t really hurt, just surprised.  I knew it had been an accident, and scooped up my baby to kiss and console her.  She was quiet in about 10 seconds.  I assured everyone that my daughter was okay.  The little girl’s father, however, was not so easily placated.

Say you’re sorry,” he said to his daughter.

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Now I felt awkward.  I stood holding my baby (while keeping an eye on the other baby at the same time) and tried to be gracious and unintimidating about receiving the apology.  The little girl promptly tried to hide behind her dad’s legs, but he was having none of it.  “Tell the little baby you’re sorry,” the father repeated.

I didn’t want to interfere in his lesson of teaching discipline or consequences, or whatever parenting method was going on.  To say “Oh, don’t worry about it,” or some such, might have undermined his authority.  I didn’t want to do that, but I really didn’t feel that an apology was necessary.  It had been an accident, not an act of aggression.

I then tried to talk directly to the little girl.  I said hello and introduced her to my baby.  I asked her what her name was and asked her about the doll she was holding.  She continued to be shy, and perhaps somewhat embarrassed, and tried to hide her face in first the picnic blanket and then her dad’s pant leg.  This technique of mine backfired, much to my chagrin—the father ordered his daughter to talk to me.

“Camille,” he said, “the lady is talking to you.”  He repeated his demand for her to apologize to the baby, and threatened to leave the park if she didn’t say sorry.

At that point, I retreated to my blanket and my other baby, who was doing her best to toddle into trouble.  Needless to say, the little girl never apologized, and the dad packed everything up, tucked his screaming, crying daughter under his arm and left the park.  He kept telling her that all she had to do was apologize and they could stay, but she was hysterical.

It all made me a bit sad.  My daughter was not injured, and I knew that the flinging shoe had been an accident.  I also know the importance of teaching respect and consequences and following through with both threats and promises.

How would you have handled the situation?  Do you make your kids say they are sorry, even if they don’t fully understand what it means?  At what age do they comprehend what an apology means?  I’d love to know.  I think we’ve all been here before.

Photo courtesy of Jon Dennis

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