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”.
Jen, I can just imagine the eye-rolling involved in the 20 utterances of “I love you” between teen-aged boys! But what a great idea! After all, they DO love one another. Funny how sometimes the simplistic tactics are the most effective.
Blessings to you and yours for a fun New Year’s Eve and a wonderful 2010!
I also do something similar with my two girls…they have to stand toe-to-toe and YELL “you are my best friend and I love you!”….over and over…
it works. 🙂
My mom always made my brothers, my sister and I give each other a kiss when we had to apologize. Same result–we’d end up laughing and grossed out. I like your idea even better because it would take a little longer so there’s even less chance of keeping a hard heart thru it. As a mom of little men now, I love learning ways of training their hearts in the right direction. Thanks!
What a great idea. 🙂 Also sounds like a wonderful approach for our marriages.
Haha, my mum made my sister and I do something similar 🙂
I posted my new years goal – with credit to you for the inspiration – thanks Jen!
Great idea! I do something similar with my three children ages 10, 12 & 14. Some days they can be so mean to one another and say such hurtful things. I make them apologize and hold hands (they can not stand it) but it sets them straight and they learn I mean business. I strive to teach my children kindness, compassion and to have good morals. I pray one day they see that everything I do, I do it because I want them to go up and be productive adults and have good relationships with others.
Thanks for sharing!
Awesome job! This is a value that is often left out of parenting. We have our children not only say they are sorry, but ask for forgiveness as well. They can not ask for forgiveness until they are ready to be forgive in their heart, so the section on touching the others shoulder really struck a cord with me. I might have to try that one.
Thank you for so writing such an important article/post.
Ahhh, this is a subject that is near to my heart. Growing up, one of my parents was quick to apologize to my brother and me when it was merited. The other parent never has. Guess which parent I have always -to this day- been closer to?
I try to remember that lesson with my own boys. Truthfully, I mess up. All. The. Time. So, I have the chance to practice and model apologies for my kids on a very regular basis. 🙂 I hope they remember it, and as they grow, I hope they use it as a necessary tool to cultivate their own close relationships.
I do love the “over-apology” system you have implemented with your boys. May try something like that myself!
My mom did something similar with us four kids. We had to quote Ephesians 4:29-32 to each other at the same time… always had the same result – a happy heart willing to forgive and be forgiven.
LOVE the hand-on-shoulder idea! I’m totally stealing it. Instead of “I love you” I’ve had grumpy kids repeat, “I am happy, I am happy…” 10-20 times which always ends in laughter. I’ve even been known to chant those words under my own breath…
#5 is such an important concept!! It’s one that every member of my family still fails to understand. They don’t apologize for ANYTHING, EVER. As a result, they live with the “elephants” in the room and they are never able to actually move forward. The room is full of elephants.
Those barriers are so evident in every interaction they have and as a results of years of walls being build, it has come to the point where no one talks to each other. I haven’t had contact with any of my family in years.
Oh Kali – I know how painful that must be, but you are spot on about #5. By teaching our children this at an early age, hopefully, we break that “Elephant in the room: cycle.
You young ladies are so very wise. My two children are grown but I am going to incorporate your tips the next time there is a tiff . Even as adults, we can learn to apologize and embrace our sibling. Thank you from a “older” follower of BB&B, one of the best blogs around. I could have used you 30 years ago but better late than never! Thanks.
Oh Judy -thanks for your sweet, encouraging word. We are all in process, aren’t we? 🙂
Great advice. Teaching children to apologize and really understand is quite difficult. As a 2nd grade teacher for many years, I tried very hard to make sure I modeled it, so they had to opportunity to see it in action. However with my own children, I feel like I failed. I have one that was very strong willed and always seemed to get her way without any regret. As a 20 year old, she still has that same belief.
Thanks for sharing. Keep those parenting tips coming!