Pushing your kids to apologize is not always the best way, especially if that’s all you do. We need to be cultivating kids that know how to make amends. As a child counselor and founder of Healing Hearts, a London, Ont.-based consulting service, Lisa Highfield has given us ten amazing alternatives to an empty apology.
You find your son and his playmate seconds away from throwing fists. Your son has trampled his playmate’s tower, and the whole thing has turned into a full-blown shouting match. After breaking it up, what do you do? Simply demand he “says sorry” and leave it at that?
There are more and better ways to fix the situation that instill great character in your kids.
- Write it down.
Sometimes it’s easier to say what’s on your heart through a letter or email. It’s less confrontational, and you have more time to think through your words. This is much easier for older kids, but you could even take the time to write it down as your younger child dictates.
- Be an empathy role model.
Kids need to know that other people’s feelings matter, not just theirs. The more you put yourself in someone’s shoes, the more you respect them and the better you treat them. Show this in little day-to-day interactions, like asking how the cashier’s day is or thanking the drive-thru attendant by name. Afterward, discuss with your child how what this person’s day might be like – the good and the bad.
- Teach your kid how to give a meaningful apology.
This three-step approach is good if your child is sincerely sorry: 1. Look the other person in the eye. 2. Say specifically what you are sorry for. 3. Say what you’ll do differently next time.
- Fight nice.
Your kids are watching you and learning from you. In many ways, they grow up to be like us. So, what do you want them to be like? Show from example in your own relationships how to handle conflict well. Be careful about raising your voice or making angry faces, and if you do, make sure they see you make amends, as well.
- Observe others.
Your kid is often seeing how others handle life, relationships, and conflict. Talk about his impressions and get him to ask questions, think deeper. What emotions did he see displayed? How do the kids around him resolve issues?
- Break it down.
This is especially necessary for kids with developmental delays or cognitive impairments. Help them to understand why what they said or did was hurtful in a language they can understand and relate to. Show them the real or possible effects of what they did.
- Make a wrong right.
Especially for physical things, have your child think of a way to make his wrong right. Let’s say your son broke his sister’s favorite toy. How can he make it right? Possibly by replacing it with one of his own or perhaps using the money in his piggy bank to buy her a new one.
- Give the victim a voice.
It’s easier for kids to see the ramifications of their actions if they hear first-hand how they hurt or affected the other person. After speaking with them individually, have them talk about it together.
- Have your kid retrace their footsteps.
Their mental footsteps, really. Why did they do what they did? What do they think led to that? How were they feeling when they hurt their friend? Have they ever felt this way before? How do they think their friend feels now?
- Take ownership.
If you ever wrong your child, say it and make amends. Show them how it’s done by humble example.