Don’t you hate it when your kid does something so embarrassing or just plain mean to someone else? Biting another kid... Stealing something out of someone’s backpack.. Sending mean texts ... Yelling at their sibling that they hate them... Disturbing a room full of quiet children who are concentrating...
Makes you just cringe! You HAVE to get them to apologize for any offenses, right?
Did your parents ever force you to apologize? Did it really make you feel sorry? I’m guessing that, like me, you probably just felt worse, felt embarrassed and it made you even more mad at whatever/whomever caused you to be rude in the first place.
Apologies are really important, however; what we want is for the heart of our kid to change, to have them understand that their behavior was unacceptable and caused hurt in another human being. Here are some ideas that might be more effective at changing their hearts instead of just forcing them through the motions of an insincere “I’m sorry.”
1 - WAIT TILL EMOTION HAS PASSED
The worst time to get a kid to apologize is when they are still full of emotion. You have to WAIT until they are calm and can talk about the situation and until YOU are calm as well. In the moment we get so distraught and embarrassed at what our kids have done that we want to lash out and fix things right away. We drag them across the playground and say things like “Apologize to Sara right now!” or “Tell Jamie you’re sorry!”
Instead, we need to go BRAIN DEAD, to take time for everyone’s feelings to subside. It might be you wait until you get your child home from school or a playdate or even the next day. This calm will allow us to make sure that their minds are open to a discussion when we move to the next step. Feel free to weave in empathy for the situation. “Wow, it sure is tough when we hurt someone’s feelings. I can tell you’re upset. Let’s talk about it later. I sure love you.”
2 – Brainstorm Ways to Make Amends
Brainstorming is the next step. There are a few pointers to making this as effective as possible.
- Do it privately, without your other children present if possible. You don’t need comments from snarky siblings as you tackle the issue. If you can give 100% of your attention without juggling other things at the same time it really helps.
- ASK if they are ready to talk about ideas for apologizing before launching into your own ideas. This is the test to see if their brains are “open”. If they answer, “yes” that they’re ready to talk, it means their thinking brain has turned back on. If “no” is their response, then emotions might still be holding onto their brain so hold off and try again at another time. Don’t forget to throw in another round of empathy like “I can see an apology might be hard for you. I sure love you. Let’s try again later.”
- Once you’ve do have an opening, exchange ideas of how THEY intend to deal with the apology. Sometimes you’ll get an immediate, “I don’t know.” Feel free to gently suggest ideas of what you think might work keeping in mind we want to activate their brain in the thinking process. We put out one idea at a time and think about it together. We want an apology that will work for them, so their feedback is really important.
As a parent you want to support your child in learning different ways they might apologize that work for them so that as you launch them into the future they have skills for repairing relationships when things go wrong. The brainstorming models for them that they can figure an apology strategy that works for them, not a parent-enforced and insincere, “I’m sorry.”
3 – Getting to Their Heart with Consequences
Lastly, there are times when even brainstorming with your child just doesn’t work. What then? When a kid’s heart is disconnected from the impact of their behavior, it’s best to let a consequence do the encouraging rather than a forced apology or giving them a lecture. I love how Love and Logic tells parents to use what they call Energy Drain. You give EMPATHY and then, “Oh, this is sooooo sad. It really drains mommy’s energy when I see you aren’t willing to apologize for ...
- hitting your sister
- being too loud and disrupting class
- taking food that was meant for the birthday party tomorrow
After the EMPATHY, ask them how they are going to put energy back in you. It might be a chore or a service they do for you. Each time they drain your energy in this way, you let them pay you back. Over time, if you’re consistent and loving, they will learn that their poor choices of causing hurt in others are causing them to do extra WORK! Yes, real WORK instead of just saying some stupid words that don’t mean anything. If this WORK doesn’t make them get a heart for their actions at least you’ve stopped the insincere words which weren’t changing behavior anyway. If you see your child needing this reinforcement, feel to get more details by listening to Parenting Decoded’s Podcast #10 on Consequences.
To summarize, we want our kids to apologize, and we need to set up ways for them to learn to do this after emotions have calmed down and in ways where their heart is engaged and they sincerely are sorry.