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The Six Step Apology (Pt 3)

by Chuckimsorry

There are things I regularly say as a dad that I thought I would never say.

Picture me with two 5-year-old girls who are crying.  They are both telling some sort of story that involves pushing and hitting. I’m not sure who did what but I just want to get back to the magical land of No-tears-or-drama.  And before I know it I have them taking turns saying, “I’m sorry, will you forgive me?”  We all then return to what we were doing. I haven’t helped, they haven’t learned, and the hurts are still there but things are temporarily quieter.

When we jump to, “Say you’re sorry!” or “Apologize!” it’s kind of like using an ice pack or cartoon Band-Aid.  We know it really doesn’t fix anything but kind of hope it does anyway.

As a parent what we really want is our kids to actually be sorry when they cause another to hurt.  We pray desperately that they have a conscience, to know when they hurt another, and to care deeply.

Kids that show no remorse are kind of scary because we associate lack of remorse with sociopath and a whole host of problems.

Being sorry and apologizing are good things but we tend to make two mistakes:

  1. We say it too soon
  2. We force it

There is nothing wrong with being eager to apologize, however there is a problem when the person apologizing simply wants to “trump” the conversation with “I’m sorry” in order to stop having to deal with the situation.  I’ve heard kids say, “I said I’m sorry, why are we still talking about it?”

It is important to start with Step 1 of our apology which acknowledges the offense and impact, followed by Step 2, which acknowledges that the act was wrong.  These two steps before the actual “I’m sorry” requires involvement both on the heart and brain level.  It prepares both parties for the third step of the apology.

Forcing an apology is just like making your child into a puppet.  There are three losses when you make your child a puppet.  First, your child is forced to lie and learns that lying gets them out of emotionally charged situations.  Second, the child receiving the apology is forced to accept hollow, shallow and manipulated words.  Third, as a parent you lose credibility and an opportunity to teach.

This is why it is so important for us as parents to not rush to the land of No-tears-or-drama but instead accept that, like it or not, we are in a teaching moment and our ability to put aside our own discomfort at this point is key in teaching our kids.

Also, if you are the one who caused the hurt, taking time to walk through the first two steps is key for you in making sure you don’t bypass the heart of the apology by rushing to the phrase, “I’m sorry.”

  1. Acknowledge the offense : “I did _____.”
  2. Admit, “I was wrong.”
  3. Use the words, “I’m sorry; I apologize.”

Step 3 forces us to give our opinion – our feelings about what we did.  But it also does another very important thing: It cuts off justification and excuse-making.

My girls recently wrote a sympathy card for a friend who lost her husband to cancer.  The girls had each drawn a picture of him and then in a mash of letters.  Both letters were a bit different but both contained the words, “I’m sorry”.  When we are faced with situations in which we can’t change or maybe even explain what happened, we are left with the words, “I’m sorry” and that is precisely what we are when we realize just what we did, what the impact was and that we were just plain wrong.

When we don’t know what else to say, we say sorry.  When spoken in sincerity and care for the other person, it is a very powerful phrase.

The second part is “I apologize.”  What this says is that you are not only acknowledging that the act was wrong, but you are claiming responsibility for the act.  It says that I have regret for what happened.

In summary, the first three steps of the apology are all about you – what you did and taking responsibility.  The next phrases are about restoring the relationship and working to keep from needing to apologize again.

Question:  What tips do you have for increasing the sincerity of your kids’ apologies?

Image credit: joshwhitemusic.com

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