Friday, March 6, 2009

Forcing the apology

It never ceases to amaze me. A child hits another and the adult makes the child go up to the victim (either at the time or hours later when the incident was reported to them), and says "Tell them you are sorry." And then waits until the child apologizes. I even read a discipline guide for toddlers that said to make them apologize. What does the forced apology do? Number one: it says, you can do anything you want as long as you apologize for it afterward. Number two: it is never sincere. A spontaneous apology is different. If a child does something and honestly feels sorry for doing that and apologizes, that is to be commended "That made me feel much better that you apologized to me." But to force an apology is never warranted and really only serves to make an embarrassed parent feel better.

The better alternative is to have the child ask the other child what would make him or her feel better. This teaches the aggressor to empathize with the victim and also teaches him or her responsibility for his or her actions. Then, help the aggressor follow through. If the victim requests an ice pack, the aggressor gets the ice pack and holds it on the hurt body part until the victim says it feels better. Let the victim be the guide. Until he or she says it is OK, the aggressor must tend to him or her.

Teaching the lesson of apology is better left to times when an incident has not occurred. Through books and by modeling apologetic behavior when appropriate. This way the child learns that saying I'm sorry comes from within, when he or she is truly feeling bad for their actions.

One day at school we had this situation happen. A student had hit the teacher. The parent told him that they could not leave school until he apologized. He promptly apologized. We pulled the parent aside and explained that we do not force apologies and told her why. She went over to her son and said "Are you really sorry, or did you say it just because I told you to?" He said, "I said it because you told me to." Vindication...