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Sorry not sorry

Is there a better way to teach our children to say sorry? KELLY EDEN explains how we can use the latest research on effective apologies.

I’ve had this dilemma for a while – should I force a “sorry” out of my kids when they do something wrong? Yes, I want to teach my children to say sorry, just like I teach them to say thank you, or excuse me. But there’s something about forcing an apology that just doesn’t seem right to me. When they do say sorry, but they say it “sor-ry” with a roll of their eyes, not meaning a word of it, that’s even worse.

When I was teaching, there were a number of kids that thought sorry was a magic word they could throw around to avoid getting told off. Sorry meant, “I’m sorry I got caught.” I want to raise kids that are sincere when they say sorry and humble enough to know when they need to. So how do we teach them the skills of genuine apologies?

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Associate Professor John Potter, an expert in Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management talks about five Rs of apologising:

1. Recognition – Apologise at the right time. Allow them to cool off and then try to talk.

2. Regret – If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.

3. Responsibility – This is as simple as saying “I was wrong”. Taking ownership.

4. Remedy – Is there some way to make up for what happened?

5. Realignment – Sometimes a problem needs to be talked about together to resolve it.

A good apology is clear and doesn’t use too many words.

Now that we know what a good apology looks like, how do we teach that to our children? In his Ted Talk, defence lawyer Jahan Kalantar shares a very simple approach.

Kalantar says that a good apology shows you understand what you did wrong. He uses a three part sentence:

1. Why – “I’m sorry I called you a name.”

2. Because – “Because it hurt your feelings. I was wrong to say that.”

3. And – “And I won’t do it again.”

This is simple and easy enough even for preschoolers to learn. With young children, I prefer to teach this apology format teamed up with a technique called “Stand and Think” (It can be used with older children too.)

Stand and Think replaces time out. It’s better because you can use it anywhere, and it helps children learn to think about their actions and reflect on what they can do next time. It goes like this:

  • Ask them to stand near you somewhere and have a think. Say, “Stand here until you are ready to talk about what you did.” (There is no time limit. It can be seconds or minutes.)
  • When they are ready, guide them through the three steps above:

– What did they do/say? (WHY)

– Why is that not okay? (BECAUSE)

– What could they have done instead?

– How can they make up for it? (AND)

  • Say, “Okay, go do that now.” If they say they want to apologise then help them learn how. Wait till the affected person is calm, then prompt the child with “I’m sorry I…because…and…”.

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