If adults need to apologize (And who would argue that?), then the art of apology needs to be learned in childhood. Here are the teaching steps we recommend:
- Help kids to accept responsibility for their own behavior. Our adult patterns of sweeping issues under the rug and shifting blame can often be traced all the way back to childhood habits. My own two-year old son passed gas and then blamed it on his diaper, saying, “My diaper burped!”
- Teach toddlers that their actions affect others. When you pull our pet’s tail, you hurt him. When you rub our cat’s whiskers, he purrs.
- Instill the concept that there are always rules in life. The most important rule is the Golden Rule – treat others the way you would like for them to treat you. But there are other rules; many rules, and most them are designed to help us have a good life.
- Dole out consistent consequences when the rules are broken. Obedience is learned by suffering the consequences of disobedience. It develops in the child a sense of morality: some things are right and some things are wrong. When I do right, there are good results. When I do wrong, there are negative results. It is this sense of morality that helps the child understand the need for an apology.
- Promote kids’ understanding that apologies are necessary in order to maintain good relationships. When I hurt other people by my words or my behavior, I have established a barrier between myself and that person. If I don’t learn to apologize, the barrier will remain and my relationship with that person will be fractured.
- Model apologies by sharing stories about how you’ve made amends to others and by apologizing to them as needed.
- Coach your children on all five languages of apology:
§ Expressing Regret: “I am sorry.” § Accepting Responsibility: “I was wrong.” § Making Restitution: “What can I do to make it right?” § Genuinely Repenting: “I want to change.” § Requesting Forgiveness: “Will you please forgive me?” What would you include in a primer on apologies?