Sunday, 21 October 2018

Teach kids to say more than just 'Sorry' // Five steps to a more meaningful apology

I don't know about your household, but around here, we are messing up on the regular. Hurt feelings, hurt toes, lost tempers and lost drink bottles. We try hard (sometimes more than others!?) but we also mess up...a lot. Grace and forgiveness is essential - and needed in abundance some days!

And you know what, that's ok! Tiring, but okay. Because home is the learning ground for life. It's where my children (and...ahem, the parents) fall and learn to get back up again. It's where the consequences are relatively small but the life lessons can be huge. Hopefully, it's a soft place to land before being jettisoned into that big, wide, sometimes scary, world.

And so. Where there are mistakes, there should also (hopefully) be apologies. Where there are intentional hurts, there should be apologies even more so! Because in our family, we believe in making things right. And we have found that there is so much more to apologising than just blurting out a blunt, perfunctory 'sorry'. Really apologising means saying sorry in a meaningful way. It means making things right (to the best of your ability) and restoring that precious relationship. It might mean talking things through or waiting some time before both parties are ready to make amends. But it's worth the wait and the work - because relationships matter. And in this family, we deal with problems, not just ignore them or sweep them under the rug.

When we make mistakes, the aim is to teach our kids how to really say sorry, how to really make amends with the other person, how to learn from the experience and restore the relationship. It may not happen all the time, because there is often a lot going on in family life, but generally we try to take this approach. And let's be honest, often multiple parties are in the wrong, so everyone needs to make amends!

Now, I feel like I have to stop here to insert something here. I know it's a movement in some parenting circles these days to never encourage a child to apologise. That just by modelling or osmosis, the child will naturally learn to apologise if they want to, and if they don't, then that's fine too and they can just carry on. Now, by all means, every parent can parent however they choose! I get the intention behind this philosophy (no forced and meaningless apologies). And I definitely agree in not using the totally 'old school' approach of forcing an obviously unapologetic child to resentfully blurt out the word 'sorry' (wringing it out like blood from a stone!!) with obviously no authenticity or remorse. That does nothing for anyone involved!

However, I personally feel like there is a middle ground.

When there is a wrong done, and particularly when there is a broken relationship, I think kids need to know - and learn - how to own that, and how to try to make things right. It might take some time, some talk, some reflection or cooling off time in a separate quiet space. But I think when kids understand what happened, and why it was wrong, they can be encouraged to make amends when they are ready to own it. And when a child is ready to apologise, as a parent you can help them make that apology more meaningful - both for them and for the other (wronged) party. So often, conflict ends with one child tossing out 'Sorry' and that's the end of it. There isn't time or process for reflection, thinking through or considering what went wrong, why it went wrong and what a better approach would be for next time. If we are going to fail (and we will!), why not at least try to learn something from it?!

I first learned about a detailed apology process in a parenting course my husband and I did many moons ago through Growing Families International. I was also drew from this fantastic article on 'A better way to say Sorry' a few years later that has similar steps too!

Over time, we have developed our own take on it with a five step process, a reminder of how to say sorry in a meaningful way. So many friends have seen my scrappy list blue-tacked on the kitchen cabinet and copied it down, so after many requests I am fiiiiinally putting it into a blog post!! And am even stretching myself to work out how to create a printable so you can put it up in your own homes if you like! :)

Now, this five step process doesn't need to followed literally every single time there is wrong done! Use your discretion. But it's a helpful way to slow down everyone involved in a conflict, and to consider what happened in a more meaningful way. And once it is ingrained, the intention can be there behind every apology, even if each literal five steps aren't followed.

My kids have now pretty much memorised these steps and often naturally go through them when they apologise - when I first put up my scrappy hand written poster, my youngest would lead me to the poster after an 'incident' and wait expectantly, haha! I guess they kinda like it ;) And just a couple nights ago, I had spoken to one of the kids about the disrespectful way they had said something to me. Then at bedtime, they peered up at me and said 'Mum, I'm sorry for being rude and I have just one question - do you forgive me?'. Totally unprompted!!! Melted my heart, I gotta admit!

And... needless to say.... these steps are useful for adults too! How many adults do we know who don't know how to say sorry in a meaningful way? And how many relationships are harmed as a result of a lack of humility and the ability to truly own a fault, apologise, restore and move forward? It's hard work but it is worth it. A lifetime's worth of worth it.

And so - here are the 5 steps to a more meaningful apology.

Download the FREE Printable here (my first time making a printable, so I hope this works!)

And here are the 5 steps again, broken down a little more and with a practical example. Often with younger kids, I will prompt them with the lead in phrase for each step, and let them finish the sentence.

How to really say 'Sorry'

Step 1: I am sorry for.... hitting you because you had a toy I wanted.

Prompts them to own what they did that was wrong.

Step 2: That was wrong because.... you got hurt and you cried. It's wrong to hit people because it hurts them.

Encourages them to think through WHY it was wrong. Often this will highlight they have no idea!!! 'I don't know why'. A chance to talk things through. This step is really about empathy building. They have to look at it from the other person's perspective. Honestly, it's fascinating to see kids work through this step, it is a huge learning process! Also a reminder that we need to be teaching our kids, not just expecting them to already know why right is right and wrong is wrong (we often assume they just know the 'why'!).

Step 3: Next time I will....ask nicely for a turn of the toy and wait.

Use positive language. Not what you won't do - what WILL you do? Often the initial response will be something like 'Next time I won't hit'. Um, ok, that's the easy answer. But the challenge is to think through what you will do instead next time - that's more meaningful and more likely to lead to change. You can really see blank stares and brains ticking over with this one, haha! It's a great process to go through - to think about what change they can own and plan for. Eg next time I will use my words and not my hands. Next time I will wait my turn patiently. 

Step 4: Will you forgive me?

This is a key step. Asking for forgiveness puts the power where it belongs - back with the victim, to bestow that forgiveness (or not!). Just saying 'sorry' keeps the power with the wrongdoer. They say 'sorry' but nothing is required from them (except for the wronged to say 'That's ok'?? Hmmm, think about that messaging!). To ask for forgiveness is definitely a lot more humbling than just saying 'Sorry' (trust me... or try it sometime, lol). But that's the whole point, right? When we do wrong against someone, it is so much more powerful to acknowledge that and give them the opportunity to grant forgiveness, rather than just tossing out a 'sorry' and moving on. The vulnerability of asking for forgiveness is often the key to restoration and reconciliation, it shows true remorse.

Step 5: What can I do to make things right or better? (Sibling asks for a hug)

Restitution is so important. It may not always be a necessary step for every situation. And the wronged party might not always want or be able to think of something, or there may not be an easy fix. If so, perhaps the wrong-doer can make a suggestion of what they can do to restore the relationship - but again, the wronged party gets to choose if that is what they want! Eg want a hug? I can draw you a picture, get you a drink, help you build the tower again, get your toy back. etc. This step doesn't always need to be included but it goes a long way towards restoring broken relationships. And if things have been broken or messed up etc, again, the responsibility is back on that child to make a real effort to put things back on track. When we make mistakes, we make an effort to make things right. This is a hugely important lesson for me to teach my kids!

Here is another example, this time from child to parent.

I am sorry for... lying to you about who ripped the book
That was wrong because.... telling lies is wrong and hurts people and means you can't trust me.
Next time I will... tell the truth, no matter what.
Will you forgive me? (yes!)
What can I do to make things right? (You can help fix the book with sticky tape).

I could go on but hopefully it makes sense! I hope this post is helpful and I have explained things somewhat clearly!?

I honestly feel like the skill (yes, it is a skill!) of being able to own your wrongs, and apologise in a meaningful, genuine way is of life long benefit. A gift I hope to give to my kids.

And let's be real. In our family we make a lot of mistakes. Life is messy and raw but if we can do our best to make things right when we mess up... that grace goes a long way.

Relationships matter. Let's do what we can to stay connected xx

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