A friend of mine shared this status update on Facebook this week.  It caught my eye because I’d already decided to write about apologies.  She was listening to her 2 boys in the bath.   The conversation went something like this…

CALEB: Toby, you need to say sorry for hitting me.

TOBY:  No.

CALEB: Say sorry, Toby.

TOBY:  (Mumbled) Sorry.

CALEB:  Say it properly and look at me when you’re saying it.

TOBY:  Sorry, Caleb.

This story made me laugh because its so hard to get kids to say sorry to each other, it’s even tougher to get them to say it nicely and almost impossible to make them really mean it!  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve witnessed some mother, standing over her child, at the park or the zoo, trying to make them apologise to some other random kid and they just will not open their mouth.  It’s hard enough to get your child to apologise to their sister or cousin, let alone to a total stranger!

Of course it’s good to encourage your child to apologise, but they probably won’t get it right every time.  Once they get used to the ritual of saying sorry and making up, then you’ve got to take it to the next level and teach them what it means to actually be sorry.  I recently heard a preacher talk about this in the context of repentance and forgiveness.  He said we can’t have true reconciliation until we recognize what we’ve done wrong and understand the impact it’s had on the other person.  That means really owning it.  Not just saying “Sorry”, but saying “Sorry I hit you.  That must have hurt and I shouldn’t have done it.”

I sometimes wonder if small children actually know what it means to feel sorry.  I think they have to be taught it.  So by asking, ‘What are you sorry for?’  ‘What did you do wrong?’   ‘How did it make the other person feel?’ you’re actually helping them to recognize what it means to be sorry.  I’ll never forget a few months ago a little boy pushed Birdy over and his mum made him say sorry – he said it grudgingly as kids mostly do.  And Birdy looked him straight in the eye and said very crossly, “I don’t believe you.”  And I thought that was progress, because she was recognizing that just saying sorry isn’t enough, you have to be sorry.  Without real repentance, behaviour won’t change.

Of course, once they have mastered the concept of being sorry, the next step is understanding what it means to forgive.  One way we can help them is to practically demonstrate forgiveness when they do wrong.  So once our kids have apologized, to us or to their friends, we have to let it go.  We shouldn’t keep lecturing them or saying why they were wrong.  If they say sorry, we should give them a cuddle and that should be the end of it.  Learning to forgive is just as important as saying sorry, but it’s much harder to do.

Do you insist that your children apologise?  Do you think they understand what it means to be really sorry?  Have you found any useful ideas to help them understand concepts like being sorry and forgiveness?