It’s a tale as old as time: your toddler borrows her older brother’s toy truck without asking, and – whoops! – breaks it. Tears flow, shouts fly, and finally your angry son declares his sister can never, ever play with his toys again. As the adult, you know she needs to apologize and he needs to forgive. But these are big concepts for little ones. It takes effort on your part to teach kids what goes into a sincere apology and what forgiveness really means. If you put in the time now, these skills will help your children resolve conflicts for their entire lives.
As anyone who’s received a half-hearted apology can attest, there’s a lot more to apologizing than just saying, “I’m sorry.” An apology is most effective when it comes from a genuine understanding of how the other person’s feelings may have been hurt, and a willingness to accept responsibility. For the person granting forgiveness, accepting a sincere apology is the healthiest way to release negative feelings and move on.
Talking with your children about how their actions affect others is an important step in developing the empathic attitude required to apologize and forgive. Make your child aware of others’ feelings by asking questions like, “How do you think your brother feels?” and, “Why do you think she did that to you?” Being constantly considerate of others’ feelings is the surest way to prevent the kinds of situations that require an apology.
But everyone has to apologize and forgive at some point. Whether you’re playing the role of mediator, or talking with kids about these situations afterwards, be sure to give the right advice. Apologizers should know that accepting responsibility is the most important step, and forgivers understand that when apologizers really mean it, forgiving is the right thing to do. Also, remember that it’s okay for kids to be temporarily angry, or sad, or frustrated. Letting these feelings out is healthier than bottling them up. But screaming and yelling is rarely a clear way to get feelings across, so let tempers cool before the process of apology begins.
Asking someone for forgiveness can be risky. It means admitting you made a mistake, and opening yourself up to further hurt or embarrassment. But holding onto resentment or anger can be emotionally draining and make it difficult to form healthy, long-lasting relationships. As your children get older, understanding their responsibility in any given situation, and knowing how to let go of negativity, will help them stay sincere, increase their confidence, and lead to stronger, more fulfilling connections with family and friends.