Most parents would do their best to instil in their children good manners from the time the toddlers start to say single syllable words. We would want our children to be able to behave appropriately in a social setting, which includes knowing when to say "Thank You", "excuse me" and "I'm sorry". I think teaching our children to apologise earnestly would be the hardest of these.
When my boys were younger, I would tell them when they need to apologise. If I caught them with bad behaviour, like snatching toys from each other, hitting each other, or making a mess after I warned them not to, I would request that they apologise. "You should say sorry".
Over time, they have learnt that when they do things which hurt each other or upset mummy, they know in their hearts, that they should apologise. So instead of getting them to repeat after me, I would ask them, "What do you think you need to do or say, to make things better now?"
Yet even when the boys do apologise, there are times when they are still obviously angry or indignant. Those are the times when I would try my best to talk through with them to get them to acknowledge their emotions.
"I know you said you're sorry. But you still sound so angry. You look angry. Are you feeling angry?"
"You sure? It's okay to feel angry because your Brother toppled your tower of blocks. I know you spent so much effort building it. But it still wasn't nice to push him even if you feel angry."
The truth is, even as adults, we sometimes experience trouble apologising when we feel indignant or because we think our actions were justified. The same can happen to our children. So as much as we want to educate them on proper manners and social etiquette, it's even more important that we acknowledge our children's emotions when they feel sad or even angry and frustrated.
The most precious apologies are those that come from the heart, truly sincere and remorseful, without being probed.
I recently had to carry my 3 yo Son up to his room when he was throwing a fit after snatching a toy from his little Sister's hand, then snatching a train from his older Brother, and even tackled him, with his arm around the bigger boy's neck. He was wailing and refused to admit that what he had done was wrong. When I was alone with him in the room, I hugged him and let cry for several minutes, and told him I love him. After he had calmed down, I asked him whether what he did to his siblings was right or wrong. He could tell me it was wrong. After talking through calmly and getting him to verbalise that he understood where he didn't behave appropriately, I assured him I love him very much. Then he said,
"Mummy... I'm sorry."
I was very moved by his sincerity. My 3yo, who's not typically expressive, was truly remorseful. He had initiated reconciliation by apologising sincerely, which I believe, mostly came from knowing that he's still well loved in spite of his moment of misdemeanour.
Apologies, I believe, need to be instilled from a young age. Yet as our children grow in their capacity to understand and reason, they cannot be forced to apologise. They need to truly see that what they have done was hurtful to others and feel sincerely that they had been wrong, with a desire to set things right.
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