The other night, I was cuddling my preschooler in the rocking chair. She is getting so big she almost doesn’t fit anymore! I know these sweet rocking chair cuddles are limited. Soon she’ll decide she’s too grown up to let Mama hold her. But for now, I still get to snuggle her close and stroke her hair.
“Mama?” She said softly. “I have somefing to tell you.”
She said, “Today, when I was outside… I opened the gate and went down the driveway. I did not stay in the backyard. You did not see me, but that’s what I did. I did it……. I’m sorry Mama.”
Things like this melt my heart!
But then there are the other times…
The times when she throws an insincere apology over her shoulder. The times when she won’t look at me. The times when she sing-songs “soooooorry Mamaaaaa” in a tone that is anything but remorseful.
That kind of apology drives me nuts! Don’t apologize unless you mean it. A fake apology doesn’t count! I mean, where did she even learn that!?
Oh yeah…it was from me.
Forcing an Apology
“Are you ready to say you’re sorry? Or do you need to go sit on the bed some more?”.
“Tell Your sister you’re sorry for splashing her, or you’re getting out of the tub.”.
“Missy?! What should you say?!.”
I’ve done it. Over and over I’ve done it. I’ve demanded an apology from her. I’ve taught her to say the words for her own best interest. I mean, that’s what moms are supposed to do right? At the park, with friends, we hear it all the time. Another child is unkind to ours, and we EXPECT for that child’s mother to get them to apologize!
Then, when it’s my child who hits a friend and refuses to say “I’m sorry” I feel so humiliated. Good moms have to teach this thing, right? So, we’ve done the whole: “Say you’re sorry or we have to leave.”
“I’m sorry…” My child mumbles. And everything is back on track. Good mom status regained. Lesson learned.
Wait… What lesson? Mumbling something insincere is a good way to avoid an unwanted consequence?!
Saying the right words isn’t good enough
Not everyone who says Lord Lord will enter the kingdom. -Matthew 7:21
Boom! Right there! Words alone are meaningless. The God of the universe requires more than empty words to call us His children. And yet here I am, coaching my littles to throw around empty words, just for their own benefit.
Wow. That kinda makes me suddenly change my outlook on the apology rule…
Now don’t get me wrong. We should not allow unkindly behavior. But you can’t force a heart change.
And that’s exactly what we really want to see;
A heart change.
Teach. Apologize to your child
I think the best way to teach a child to feel sincere contrition is by example. Apologize. Apologize sincerely. Apologize often. Be simple and honest.
Let them see by example how to handle mistakes. Let them see us own our own anger, or own sin. This is powerful!
This is ongoing discipline.
But what about in the moment? It’s great to have the foundation, but how should I respond when my child has just hurt someone?
What to do when my child won’t say ‘sorry?’
Okay, so we’re at the park, and my kid just slugged someone. Now what?
First, I think we should remove our child from the situation. Out of earshot of the other mother. So much of what we do as parents is often flavored by seeking the approval of others. We need to be sure we’re not putting on a performance.
And at this point, decide if we are staying, or if we need to leave. If this is the second time she’s hit, we’re leaving. If it’s the first time, but she is too worked up to be able to learn, we’re leaving. If she seems capable of being corrected, then we can stay and talk.
Next, I love to try and ask Paul Tripp’s 5 questions. Really try to get the child to see their actions, motivations, and most importantly the hurt it caused.
I like to add a 6th question:
“How can we make it better?”
It could be an apology, sharing a snack, or offering a turn on the swing, or whatever our child thinks might help. Mama can offer suggestions if needed.
But here’s the kicker. Making amends has absolutely no bearing on whether or not we are staying at the park. None. This is completely optional. Our child could decide to do nothing, and we’re still staying. There is no reward for apologizing, and no punishment for not. At that point, the heart change is up to God. He will claim their hearts in his own time. It might not be this time. Or next. But we just keep bringing them to his feet and leaving them there. Anything more is overstepping Mama’s role.