Your child gets angry. Your child hits someone. This is a difficult moment for a parent. What is the first response of many parents? Apologize! You must say sorry!
This could create a problem. This may not be the best approach. Wait a minute, you are thinking… how can an making an apology be a problem? Well, you may not agree with me but I will share my thoughts. You are free to draw your own conclusions.
Let’s go back to the angry child. When a parent demands an apology from this angry child, do you think it will be sincere? I argue that if the child is still angry and full of emotion, it will be totally insincere and there’s nothing anyone can do about that. Feelings are real and cannot be changed; they can only be acknowledged and discussed. Young children are just beginning to understand the range of emotions they can experience. Sometimes children are flooded with powerful emotions that flow just like a waterfall. And the ability to self regulate may not be present yet.
And sometimes, you can even hear how little the forced apology means in the automatic way a child apologizes after hitting someone. These are the children who have been told to apologize. Many of them will sound very robotic in their “sorry.” And I’ve seen children who hit others more than once in a day and follow the hit with “sorry” immediately. Does the apology mean anything? No.
Here’s my approach keeping in mind that there is not one ‘right’ way to raise a child.
I might acknowledge the angry child’s feelings. I may say something like: “I can see that you are feeling angry.” I would give the child a chance to calm down a little. I would find out what made the child angry. Once the angry child is calm I would focus on the hurt child: “I also see that your friend is crying.”
I teach children when someone is hurt, we comfort them. I teach children to start by asking “Are you okay?” to the child who they have just hit a moment ago. Quite often the child who has been hit will answer “No.” It is important for the child who was hitting to realize that this friend is not okay. I encourage that child to look at the other child’s face and point out that this child is crying or looks sad or looks hurt.
Then we focus on how to make a person feel better. I teach the hitter to ask, “What would make you feel better?” We talk about how hugs or high fives, funny faces, funny jokes or maybe an arm around a friend might help make someone feel better.
When we as adults make a mistake and loose our cool, we are not proud of that, right? We may feel ashamed. I feel children are the same and they need a chance to make up for what they have done so that they can get over the mistake, learn something and move forwards. The focus needs to be on the solution.
Some things I might say… “Being sorry means making a change. Being sorry means trying to do the right thing.”
Instead of teaching children to make excuses, let’s teach them to make amends, care for each other, look for solutions, take action to correct mistakes and move forwards.