Q: “How do you get a teen [child] to open up and own their mistakes? And how do you get a hold to realize he owes an apology?”
A: I love this question, and this concept works with kids of all ages.
At some point every parent has said, “Wow, that was not okay, go say you’re sorry.”
The child, depending on where (s)he is developmentally, will either dutifully give a scripted, monotone “I’m sorry,” or a snarky, disconnected, insincere “Sooorrreee!”
I don’t know about you, but that type of apology just doesn’t feel genuine. So, what can be done?
The Definition of An Apology
Have you and your partner/spouse ever discussed how you want your child to apologize?
Have you ever talked about what a true apology looks like, and feels like, to you?
Do you think a true apology requires eye to eye contact? That’s usually too hard for kids who are emotional.
Is your child required to do something kind or helpful for the person they offended?
Or do you simply require that an “I’m sorry” be delivered, and however your child delivers it is fine with you, as long as (s)he does it?
Be honest, then and ask yourself, “Is my child really learning anything by the way they apologize?”
They Are Learning, Just Not What You Think
Letting kids deliver insincere or snarky apologies teaches them that this is how you get apologies over with, so you can go back to playing. Kids also learn that you don’t really have to feel sorry, you just have to say the words.
Again, I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t feel genuine to me. And forcing a child to apologize simply creates a power struggle, so that’s not the answer either.
Create a Mindful Learning Moment Instead
There is a way to create a Mindful Learning Apology that teaches your child empathy, compassion, responsibility, and kindness.
Kids don’t have the experience, yet, to fully understand that it takes more than words to heal a heart. Since kids learn from experience, why not let them experience what being fully engaged in making things right feels like, versus just saying “soorree.”
Part 1: A Contract for Change.
All parents want their child’s apology to remind them to never to do that again. A Mindful Learning Apology accomplishes that.
If you have preschoolers, ask your child to use these well-known words to apologize, “I’m sorry for… This is wrong because… In the future, I will… Will you forgive me?”
If your kids are older than 5, try expanding what it means to truly apologize. Introduce the concept that saying “I’m sorry” is actually a contract for change. Tell them that words of apology also serve to remind you to change your behavior.
Part 2: A Kindness
Children learn best by doing, so why not have them experience what it feels like to do something kind as a way to make things right after offending someone. So it doesn’t feel insincere, have your child pick the type of kindness they’ll perform from the offended person’s section of the “Make-Up Box.”
Nothing in childhood is fully learned with just one correction, lesson, or explanation, kids need repetition. Mindful Learning Apologies work on many levels.
They teach a child to be remorseful, without guilt and shame.
They teach a child which words heal a heart and are genuine, and which words aren’t.
They teach a child what it feels like to do something nice for other people. And more.
Complete details for the “Make-Up Box” can be found in 10 Key Tools for Teaching not Punishing. You can purchase it alone, or it comes in packages #1, 2, and 4 @ the website.
I hope this helps.
Now, go hug your kids!