Teaching Our Children to Apologize

Before I had children, I never could have imagined just how important teaching our children to say two little words would be for not just building peace in our home, but also helping our children become best friends.

Who knew that teaching our children to sincerely apologize would be so challenging, yet also make such a difference in the home?

Cultivating a heart of forgiveness within our family begins with modeling that occurs in the home. Yikes, that means it starts with me! It’s unbelievable how much they pattern their behavior after my own, yet growing up in an environment where I often heard “I’m sorry” from my parents  allowed me to begin understanding the true nature of an apology.

Many of my friends have shared that they never received an apology from their parents, and have continued to struggle with not just giving apologies, but understanding how to wholeheartedly forgive as an adult. My heart aches for them and I can’t imagine the pain that they hold onto.

Beginning to teach the importance of apologies, and model for our children how to apologize is something that can’t begin early enough. My personal mothering is constantly in process,  and I have many opportunities to ask forgiveness of my children for areas in which I need to work.   As I begin to understand how they best receive apologies and what language minsters to them the most, I deepen my bond with them by building an authentic relationship (see The Five Languages of Apology)

As a mother of a toddler and elementary age children, Dr. Jen Thomas recommends these tips for teaching your child to apologize.

1.    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!”

2.    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.

3.    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.

4.    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.

5.    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.

6.    Model apologies by sharing stories about how you’ve made amends to others and by apologizing to them as needed.

7.   Coach your children on all five languages of apology. Prepare them to be multi-lingual in their apologies!

With having five children, you can only imagine how often I deal with the  need for apologies. As a young mom with four children in five and a half years, I was at my whits end with all the young testosterone that flew around our home.  One day, when few hairs were left on my head, I implemented a new “discipline”  that has lasted for over a decade now. After modeling an apology and having them apologize to each other (this is key and must be talked through first), I could tell that my four and five year old boys still did not have a “happy heart.” Their apology was out of necessity.

Well, with a little creativity, I had them put their hands on each others shoulders (as demonstrated above) and express to each other, ” I love you” twenty times each (at the same time).  What started out as sheer torture on their part, ended in laughter, hugs and a happy heart.

Yes, this simplistic tool has gotten us through many an argument, and works on girls as well (yes, it’s been tested many times over).  Being the mean mom that I am, I have even required it a few times on my now teen aged boys. Whew – were they upset at me! It took a little longer for them to get through it, and a whole lot more disagreeing to begin with, but guess what the end result was? Eye rolling and laughter.  Yes, it was!

Teaching your children the discipline of apologies, wow, what a loaded never ending process, but one that will “reap them a harvest of righteousness and peace for those trained in it”.