In my previous post shared a story in which I told my son I wanted him to apologize to his friend. Some people will disagree with this on the grounds that it’s not best practice to force a child to apologize.
I understand the reasons behind this belief and agree that a huge power struggle complete with punishments for not apologizing is certainly counterproductive. However, like most things, there’s more than one way to intelligently look at asking children to apologize.
The assumption that I see in a lot of the “don’t make your kids say they’re sorry” articles is that the children don’t want to apologize. This isn’t always an accurate assumption. Nor is it always true that asking them to say it doesn’t make them feel it, that it doesn’t teach social skills, and that it automatically makes them feel unhealthy shame and embarrassment. Let me explain.
During any given backyard or playground romp with buddies and brothers, my sons will accidentally or on purpose hurt, get hurt by or have some sort of conflict with the other kids. That’s normal and healthy. It’s how children learn to get along (aka social skills).
Wrapped up in all of this is an interesting dance of status, posturing, testosterone/amygdala driven emotions, and face-saving. Most of the time it all works out well in the end. Sometimes, one of the fellas gets a stinger that hurts more than they can just shake off, or someone throws an insult or angry words that are more extreme.
Here’s the truth: When a boy hurts someone physically or emotionally, he feels sorry. Really. Boys are not emotionally bereft. They are actually very sensitive. Often the bravado we see is self-protection. To sort out and respond to all the emotional data on the spot, in front of others, can just be too much. In our culture it’s much easier to drop an F-bomb and walk off in a cloud of smoke.
But all those unresolved emotions don’t just go away. They stick in our bodies and minds. Sometimes they get all twisted up. Eventually they cause problems. One way to help with this is to apologize. When the mess of emotions and stories is too knotted up to quickly sort out, being able to simply say “I’m sorry” is a great way to take some of the pressure off. It says, “There’s more to this than I can figure out, but I see I hurt you and I wish I hadn’t.”
Many times boys WANT to be able to express compassion and regret for their actions, but rules of status and the boy code get in the way. When that’s the case, sometimes boys really need an adult to give them the chance to apologize by telling them that it’s time. It can be an incredibly kind thing to create this container for them.