A recent discussion at our house:
Me: Tell your sister you’re sorry for saying there’s a ghost upstairs eating her Barbie’s feet.
David: Mom, the feet are missing. It’s a logical explanation.
Me: . . .
Children follow their own version of logic. The kind of logic where the answer to the question, “what should I do with this popcorn kernel?” is “stick it in my ear.” It can make it difficult to reason with them. But we try. Every. Single. Day. My latest attempts at reasoning have been focused on apologies. Why apologies? Because of these recent examples of remorse gone wrong:
1. Me: “Emily, you need to tell me you’re sorry.”
Me: “Do you know what you’re sorry for?”
Emily: “No. But you should know because you told me to say it.”
2. A Cub Scout in my son’s Den: “Sorry … whatever.”
(I included this example because it makes me feel better. My kids aren’t the only ones apology challenged!)
3. Emily (again): “sorrysorrysorrysorrysorry. There.”
4. David: “I AM SORRY!!!!!”
We’ve got some work to do. (My children are going to need to be skillful at apologies.) So, I’ve been thinking about what constitutes a good apology. It’s a skill that I could also stand to improve. Here’s what I came up with:
- When should you apologize? Did your actions hurt someone’s feelings, break something, or cause some kind of disturbance in the force – even if it was unintentional and accidental? You need to apologize.
- Take responsibility. Really, take responsibility. I know that most things aren’t 100% anybody’s fault but apologize for the 55% that you own. Hopefully, the owner of the remaining 45% will also apologize but that’s out of your control. So, own your part – the view is great from the high road!
- State what you did wrong, say you’re sorry, and explain why/how it won’t happen again. Then (here’s the important part), don’t let it happen again.
- Most apologies are best face-to-face. Use your best judgment! “I’m sorry I parked in your parking space,” is probably okay in an email. “I’m sorry I knocked your iPhone in the toilet,” is best delivered in person.
- Never end your apology by asking for their apology (see #2).
- Be sincere.
- An angry apology isn’t, technically, an apology. Don’t say you’re sorry and, in your next breath, argue your position.
- Don’t over-apologize.
- Don’t say “but,” as in, “I’m sorry, but…” If you’re sorry, just be sorry. Don’t explain how it’s not REALLY your fault. (This rule is strangely familiar to the “Don’t say butt” rule in our house. Hopefully, I can follow this rule better than my children follow the butt rule.)
- Accept that the person you’re apologizing to may not be ready to call it all water under the bridge. Listen to them. Tell them you understand. Give them time.
By the way, the dog ate the feet off the Barbie. Perhaps we can get a more satisfying apology from her.