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Friday, October 24, 2014

More Than Just "I'm Sorry"

  • I know I'm not the only mom who insists that my children apologize after committing a wrong, an offense or even an "oops" against a sibling or friend.  But I noticed that my children were offering a brief, unsympathetic "sorry," as if inconvenienced by their own lapse.  A rushed, "Sorry."  Then the child was off to play, expecting the hurt, offended or insulted party to go on as if there was never an incident. Somehow, I had communicated that the word magically absolved the speaker of responsibility.  Hurt feelings, broken toys or wounded body parts remained.

In the worst cases, I would have two crying children: one who was genuinely hurt, the other because the hurt child wouldn't forgive.  "But I said I'm sooooorry!"  This scenario was becoming too common and I noticed a shift was needed.  

My goal was to encourage responsibility and ownership of wrongs and to foster empathy in my children.  So I began to insist on adding a phrase to the I'm sorry requirement.  I'm sorry for breaking your art project.  I'm sorry for knocking over your lego structure.  I'm sorry that I was mean with my words.  I'm sorry that I lied.  

I'm sorry + the reason that I'm sorry (responsibility) + question = Maturing Emotions 

The question point is where empathy can be developed.  What can I do to help?  Did that hurt your feelings?  Will you forgive me?  

We all want to raise empathetic and responsible children, and it is good to say "I'm sorry." But what we really want is a world of people who know what sorry means and how to show it.  For a long time, I believed the words I wanted to hear and now I know to believe the actions a person demonstrates.  In that vein of thinking, I'm teaching my own children that saying "I'm sorry" isn't the same thing as being sorry and showing it.

How do you encourage empathy in your family?  What's your experience with hearing, "I'm sorry?"  Do you make your children apologize?

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