From time to time we have all experienced being hurt or hurting someone. It is inevitable children will cause some kind of physical harm or hurt someone’s feelings. It’s part of growing up.
What isn’t always taught is how to truly apologize.
Every parent has good intentions when asking their children to say: “I’m sorry” to an injured party. While sometimes this approach works out well and everyone feels satisfied, I’m betting we have also heard the sarcastic, unauthentic, or mumbled response of “I’m sorry.” It’s this empty response is the one that bothers me.
One of our nannies had borrowed our car and returned it with a dent. This is when I had heard the canned: “I’m sorry” response without true remorse, and it infuriated me! I vowed to teach a better approach to young people.
So what was the better approach I could teach?
The inspiration came from my business background. When business transactions go awry, whether it’s a missed deadline, a defect, or a performance deficiency, good business dictates a very simple response “How can I make it right?”
This simple statement would have given me the satisfaction that someone was looking out for my interests and attempting to take action to correct a mistake instead of a feeble attempt at sweeping it away with two little words.
When my children cause harm, physically or emotionally there’s a magic formula I expect them to say now. Say: “I’m sorry,” and most importantly, ask: “How can I make it right?”
I find humor in how young ones use this formula. Often the interaction goes like this:
Assailant: “I’m sorry. How can I make it right?”
Injury party: “Never, never, never, never, NEVER, never, NEVER do it AGAIN!”
And life resumes happily.
A few caveats have materialized using this formula. “Never” is an impossible standard. Therefore, they should ask to TRY to never do it again.
Also, distinguish the difference between unintended accidents and intentional harm. Both should result in apologies but with slightly different expectations.
This technique comes with a warning. My children have the same expectations of their friends now. They will ask their friends to use the formula including “How can I make it right” to any apology. I guess raising the standards of who they surround themselves is another part of growing up…