Parents and teachers participating in our courses and workshops sometimes get a little rattled when we suggest that they not request that their child or student say “I’m sorry.” This bumps up against what almost all of us were taught as children, which is to apologize if someone is upset with us or we have done something “wrong.” There are three main reasons that we recommend avoiding apologies:
1. Typically, an apology simply wipes the slate clean. There is no deepening of understanding, no true resolution to the issue and no change in behavior. An apology let’s someone off the hook without making amends.
2. When a child simply repeats the words “I’m sorry,” because his parents requested that he do so, he generally doesn’t feel sorry. Requesting that a child say the words when there are no authentic feelings behind them puts him out of integrity with himself.
3. Instead of apologizing, doing a make-up makes such a big difference in relationships.
Make-ups are a way to make amends. If a relationship is disrupted, someone can restore balance through a make-up. If a young child hits a friend, an adult can discuss options other than hitting, what the child wanted and how the other child might have felt. The adult can suggest several make-up ideas if the child has not done them before. The make-up, though, is the child’s decision, not the adult’s. The child might decide to ask his friend if he can give him a hug or he can share a favorite toy.
If an older child breaks a lamp, he can decide to have a certain amount of money withdrawn from his allowance each week until he pays for a new one. If a teen forgets to tell mom that she has a meeting after school and moms needlessly waits in the pick-up line, the teen can do a make-up for inconveniencing mom, such as doing the laundry, babysitting a younger sibling or washing the car.
One of the most powerful things a parent can do is to model make-ups. Through watching us – and we may not even be aware that they are – children learn what a difference they can make with make-ups.